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Yacht May Have Hit Freighter In Deadly US Crash

The body of the skipper of a yacht that broke apart for unknown reasons off the Coronado Islands over the weekend remained missing today, as authorities tried to determine what caused the quadruple-fatality accident.

Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach and three other men were taking part in an annual Newport-to-Ensenada race when the 37-foot boat they were on dropped off the event's vessel-tracking system about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, according to the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, which stages the competition.

The accident occurred just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, about eight miles off the Baja California coast, NOSA spokesman Rich Roberts said.

A floating debris field found when the sun rose suggested that Mavromatis' Hunter 376, called the Aegean, may have disintegrated in a collision with a considerably larger vessel. Some of the first rescuers on scene were able to identify the wreckage from the destroyed boat's drifting transom, which bore its name.

On Saturday afternoon, searchers scanning the seas in the area found the bodies of William R. Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance; Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; and Joseph L. Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.

Autopsies determined that Johnson and Rudolph died of blunt-force trauma, and that Stewart drowned, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its effort to find Mavromatis on Sunday afternoon.

"It's never easy to make the decision to suspend a search-and-rescue case,'' said Capt. Sean Mahoney, commander of the USGC's San Diego sector. "The Coast Guard extends its sympathies to the families and friends of the Aegean crew.''

Sailors who knew Mavromatis have described him as a conscientious and safety-oriented boatsman whose vessel was well-outfitted with navigational and collision-avoidance gear, including radar.

The course of the Aegean crossed shipping lanes used by commercial and military ships headed to and from the ports of San Diego and Ensenada. The captain and crew of a ship much larger than the Aegean might have been unaware of a collision with it, officials said.

Winds were light at the time of the accident, and if only one person was on deck, he may have had trouble starting the boat's auxiliary engine and getting out of the way of an approaching vessel in time.

The yacht was one of 213 sailboats in the roughly 125-mile race, which started at midday Friday. Most boats finished Saturday.

The fatalities were first in the 65-year history of the annual race, according to organizers, but was the second West Coast yachting disaster this spring.

On April 14, five people died off the coast of San Francisco when a boat in a race around the Farallon Islands was disabled by a breaking wave and washed onto a rocky shore. That loss of life prompted the Coast Guard to suspend offshore sailboat racing in Northern California.

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