Independent Panel Believes Yacht Struck Island

Coast Guardsmen pull debris from the waters off the California coast where the yacht Aegean wrecked during race in late April.

SAN DIEGO - An independent review panel investigating the deaths of four sailors said it believes the 37-foot sailboat Aegean ran aground on North Coronado Island off the Mexican coast on April 28 during the Newport to Ensenada Race.

The US Sailing Independent Review announced its finding Tuesday. The panel drew its conclusion after gathering information from race organizers, collecting data from the Aegean's track during the race and meeting with the U.S. Coast Guard San Diego Sector's investigation team. A full report from US Sailing is expected by the end of July, including recommendations to the sailing community.

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Dave McCarthy declined to comment on the panel's findings. He said he believed the Coast Guard was close to completing its own investigation.

Race officials originally believed the Aegean was destroyed in a collision with a larger ship in the middle of the night. That theory was undercut when a website that tracks boats by GPS showed the Aegean's course heading straight into the rocky island, which rises sharply out of the Pacific Ocean southwest of San Diego.

A race safety patrol member who was the first to find debris said it looked "like it had gone through a blender."

The accident killed the captain, Theo Mavromatis, 49, of Redondo Beach, and crewmembers Kevin Eric Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach; William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance; and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla.

They were the first deaths in the race's 65-year history.

Last month, a separate US Sailing Independent Review Panel released preliminary findings and recommendations in its investigation of an accident that killed five sailors aboard Low Speed Chase off the San Francisco coast. Low Speed Chase was competing near the Farallon Islands when a wave knocked the 38-foot yacht onto the rocks.

The review panels were comprised of offshore sailing, safety and medical experts.

Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.

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