This article was originally published at 12:33 a.m. Sunday.
The four crewmen aboard the Aegean, a Redondo Beach-based yacht that may have collided with a larger ship while competing in a race from Newport Beach to Mexico, have been identified.
William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. perished during the deadly crash, the San Diego County Coroner said Sunday.
Friends told Patch that the third crewman was Kevin Rudolph.
The Aegean was skippered by its owner, Redondo Beach resident Theo Mavromatis, and had its regular crew, according to Ray Pollock of Marina Sailing, which rents out the boat for Mavromatis.
The Hunter 376 yacht was representing Long Beach-based Little Ships Fleet Club in the annual Lexus Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race when it “vanished” from the online race tracking system at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, according to a news release from Rich Roberts, the race's press officer.
On Saturday, a Coast Guard helicopter crew and a civilian crew discovered the bodies tied to the remains of the Aegean, which included the rear transom with the boat’s name on it, according to the Coast Guard. The search was launched after race officials notified the Coast Guard of the missing boat and vessels near the Coronado Islands reported seeing debris Saturday morning.
"We definitely will be investigating this," U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy said.
The Coast Guard, civilian crews and Mexican Navy continued to search for Mavromatis after the other bodies were discovered; however, the search was called off at about 4:15 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s never easy to make the decision to suspend a search and rescue case,” said Capt. Sean Mahoney, Commander Sector San Diego. “The Coast Guard extends its sympathies to the families and friends of the Aegean crew. They will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
Mike Patton, who was supposed to have sailed on the Aegean in the Lexus Newport Beach to Ensenada Yacht Race, speculated Sunday that Mavromatis probably went down with the sailboat, which apparently collided with a larger vessel.
"An investigation (is) continuing, but it appeared the damage was not inflicted by an explosion but by a collision with a ship much larger than the 37-foot vessel," according to the news release from Roberts. It was not publicly known if any large Navy or commercial ships were crossing the race course when the Aegean’s signal disappeared, but the yacht's path intersected shipping lanes into San Diego Bay near where debris was first spotted Saturday. The nearest big commercial ports are at San Diego and Ensenada, about 70 miles southeast.
Large commercial fishing boats from both the U.S. and Mexico also operate in the area.
“We don’t have any details of what happened to the boat,” Pollock said. “The boat was very seaworthy and had all the instruments you need to avoid collisions.”
Pollock said the Aegean had a brand-new engine and said the crew was experienced.
“I’d probably rule out operator error,” he said.
Patton’s statements echoed the sentiment.
“That was the safest crew I’ve ever seen—almost to the point of ridiculousness,” he said. “I know that boat intimately, and there’s no way it should have happened.”
This was the seventh time Mavromatis had entered the race, according to results from the race’s official website. He won the race in 2011 and 2009.
The crew that won last year consisted of Johnson, Stewart, Rudolph, Mavromatis and Patton.
More than 200 boats competed in the Newport Ocean Sailing Association’s race, which started Friday at the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, and many of the 213 boats sailed into Ensenada on Saturday. The last boats were expected to come in Sunday.
Roberts said that these are the first fatalities in the history of the 65-year-old race.
Mavromatis is president and chief executive of Aegean Consulting, Inc., which specializes in the telecommunications and aerospace industries.
—City News Service contributed to this report.