Accident During Yacht Race Leaves Three Dead

Three men are confirmed dead after an accident over the weekend during a sailboat race from Southern California to Ensenada, Mexico. Wreckage from their boat was spotted early Saturday morning but the cause of its destruction remains a mystery.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. For the second time this month, a yacht race off the coast of California has turned deadly. Over the weekend, a 37-foot sailboat was destroyed during the annual race from Newport Beach to Ensenada, Mexico. Three men are confirmed dead, and the Coast Guard has called off the search for a fourth.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The first indication that something had gone wrong on the 125-mile race came on Saturday morning. Captain Eric Lamb was on routine patrol in the race's safety boat when he began seeing lots of debris. He said it looked like a yacht had been pulverized. He was surrounded by two- to three-inch pieces.

ERIC LAMB: So I was just amazed at how small everything was. It was almost like it had gone through a blender.

KAHN: I reached him on his cell phone as he was heading back from Ensenada, Mexico.

LAMB: Our initial - first thought was that it was possibly - it had possibly encountered - hitting a larger vessel so - and it would have been quite a bit larger to have done that kind of damage.

KAHN: Lamb quickly contacted the U.S. Coast Guard. The bodies of three men were pulled out of the water. A fourth crewmember is yet to be found. Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy says it's unclear what happened. The incident is under investigation.

HENRY DUNPHY: Right now - we can't rule out any possibilities at this point, but they're basically trying to determine if it was a collision or a drowning that would - that had caused the accident.

KAHN: The race does run through major shipping lanes near the ports of San Diego and Ensenada. Roy Pollock, who has used the destroyed boat on charter trips, says its captain had state-of-the-art safety equipment onboard.

ROY POLLOCK: He was a very fastidious person. The boat was in really good shape, and he was always doing things to make it more seaworthy.

KAHN: The Newport Beach to Ensenada Regatta is known as one of the easiest in Southern California. It's called a downhill race. The wind is behind you; you put your sails up and go.

JUDY FOSTER: It's tragic.

KAHN: Judy Foster of the Newport Beach Ocean Sailing Association, who sponsors the regatta, says in its 65-year history, there's never been a fatality.

FOSTER: It is normally a very safe, and it's a very fun, race. People love this race.

KAHN: Racing off Northern California has been suspended since five people died earlier this month. Their 38-foot yacht was overturned by powerful waves. For now, the Coast Guard says racing will continue in Southern California. Officials say they'll work closely with event organizers to make races as safe as possible.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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