Coast Guard ends search for 4 missing yacht racers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The search for four
yacht crew members thrown from their boat during a weekend race off
Northern California was indefinitely suspended, with the Coast Guard
saying the “window of survivability” had passed.

The four were part of an
eight-member crew racing around the Farallon Islands Saturday when their
sailboat was hit by powerful waves that forced it onto rocks.

The body of one crew member was pulled from the water hours after the accident. The three remaining crew members were rescued.

Coast Guard Petty Officer
Caleb Critchfield said the search was reluctantly halted at sundown
Sunday and there were no plans to resume it, after aircraft and boats
searched the ocean around the islands, about 27 miles from San
Francisco, for more than 30 hours.

“There's a window of survivability and we searched well beyond that window,” he told The Associated Press.

The San Francisco Yacht
Club identified the four as Alan Cahill, of Tiburon, Calif.; Jordan
Fromm, of San Rafael, Calif.; Elmer Morrissey, of Ireland; Alexis Busch,
of Larkspur, Calif.

Club director Ed Lynch he was deeply saddened by news the search had ended.

“The tragedy is incredibly difficult to deal with,” he said early Monday.

Critchfield said a C-130
plane, helicopters, three Coast Guard cutters and a smaller boat
searched a 5,000-square-mile area with no success.

“Making this kind of decision to call off the search and rescue is never an easy decision,” the officer said.

Lynch said the confirmed
death was the first known fatality in the 143-year history of the San
Francisco Yacht Club, which managed the race for the Offshore Yacht
Racing Association and where the yacht involved in the accident, the
38-foot Low Speed Chase, was based.

A century-old tradition,
the Full Crew Farallones Race has never been for the faint of heart:
Winds averaging 10 to 20 knots and churning 14-foot Pacific Ocean swells
are among the rough conditions typically braved by yachts and their
crews during the daylong regatta, a spring favorite of skilled sailors.

But on Saturday, powerful
waves and a disastrous series of events brought rare tragedy to the
august race and the San Francisco Bay area's large sailing community.

Two strong waves swept them
from their boat near the rocky islands, the halfway point of the
54-mile race that began at daybreak in San Francisco and had 49
entrants.

Low Speed Chase's owner and
captain, 41-year-old James Bradford of Chicago, was among the three
survivors whom the U.S. Coast Guard, assisted by National Guard
helicopters, pulled from one of the islands about 300 feet from their
damaged vessel, Lynch said.

Bradford and another crew
member were briefly treated at a hospital, while the third survivor was
admitted overnight with a broken leg and contusions, he said.

The seven men and one woman
on board ranged in age from their 20s to their 40s, according to Lynch.
He said the San Mateo County Coroner's Office has identified the crew
member whose dead body was pulled from the water as Marc Kasanin, 46, of
Belvedere, Calif.

Lynch said the yacht club,
which is located just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in
Belvedere, has 1,400 members and is a place where “lawyers, carpenters
and doctors can all have a beer together and talk about their love of
sailing.” But Saturday's race was likely to attract the most dedicated
recreational sailors, he said.

“The Farallon Islands are a
destination to go and sail around, and it is certainly some of the
toughest conditions around in a sailing environment,” Lynch said. “It's
not for everybody, but for the people who do it, it's a thrill.”

The conditions during
Saturday's race were typically rough, but Low Speed Chase ran into
trouble when it was broadsided by a large wave and some crew members
were swept overboard, he said.

As the boat was turning
around to get them, a second wave flung all but one of the remaining
crew members into the water and the yacht aground, Lynch said. At least
one other boat in the race witnessed the accident, but was unable to
render aid without endangering its crew, he said.

The vessel master told investigators the yacht was rolled several times by the waves, the Coast Guard said.

A Mayday call went out at about 3 p.m. PDT on Saturday.

The entire crew was
believed to have been wearing life vests and foul weather gear, which
made rescuers optimistic they might find survivors.

The Farallon Islands are a
series of steep, rocky outcroppings visible from San Francisco on a
clear day and uninhabited except for a manned research station. Part of a
national wildlife refuge and closed to the public, the islands are home
to vast quantities of sea birds and are surrounded by waters rich with
seals and sea lions, and sharks that feed on them.

Search crews have
encountered plenty of wildlife in their search for the missing crew
members, but have not reported seeing any sharks that would pose
additional danger to anyone stuck in the water, the Coast Guard said.

Low Speed Chase remains grounded on one of the islands but reportedly intact, the guard said.

R. David Britt, a
University of California, Davis chemist who skippered his sailboat,
Split Water, in the Full Crew Farallones Race for the third time on
Saturday, described the sailing out by the islands that day as “pretty
intense.” Swells nearing 20-feet-high were breaking far enough from the
craggy outcroppings that Britt says he steered farther around them than
he otherwise might to avoid getting swamped by a wave or dashed onto the
rocks.

“The worst thing is to have
a wave break on you,” he said. “You can go up and down, up and down,
but if a wave breaks on the cockpit on top of the crew, that's how
somebody could get swept out of the boat.”

Britt thinks he was not far
ahead of Low Speed Chase as they rounded the islands, and thought it
strange when he looked back later and no longer saw his competitor.

During the day, people
dropped roses and tulips by the entrance of the San Francisco Yacht
Club, which hosted a members-only candlelight vigil and prayer service
Sunday evening to honor the missing crew members and the one who died.

Anne Kasanin, the mother of
the sailor who died, attended the service and was touched by how many
people knew her son, who started sailing at age 7 and lived his whole
life on the cove where the yacht club is located. He was a well-known
local artist whose landscapes in acrylic and oil reflected his love of
the water, she said.

“He was a very dear son to me and a tremendous help, and I'm going to miss him very much,” she said.

Bradford and the other two survivors attended the vigil, but were too distraught to talk about their experience, Lynch said.

Club member Brian Swift
said that even though sailors are aware of the dangers of racing in open
ocean, “what everybody is feeling is utter shock.”

The San Francisco Bay area
is home to a vibrant sailing scene, with more than 35 yacht clubs
ringing the bay's chilly, wind-whipped waters. Due to steady winds, easy
access and a picturesque backdrop featuring the Golden Gate Bridge,
Alcatraz and Coit Tower, the city of San Francisco was chosen to host
the 2013 America's Cup, the sport's marquee event.

There are dangers, however,
such as strong tides and commercial shipping. Those dangers, including
strong winds, increase when sailors are on the open ocean beyond the
Golden Gate Bridge.

Results from last year's
Full Crew Farallones Race posted on the web site of the Yacht Racing
Association of San Francisco Bay shows that Bradford entered Low Speed
Chase in the event, but did not finish it.

___

Marshall reported from Belvedere, Calif., Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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