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Malfunctioning Inflatable Vest May Have Caused Sailor's Death

 CHICAGO (CBS) -- We're getting closer to knowing exactly what led up to the death of an experienced sailor in the Race to Mackinac.

For the first time the Chicago Yacht Club is talking to the CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker who has stunning information about the life vest the sailor was wearing.

The main questions after the boater's death was why didn't the inflatable life vest go off? Was it ripped? Was it human error?

CBS 2 has learned that it was the CO2 cartridge that did not work.

However the Chicago Yacht Club can't say why because they don't have the vest. They never had the vest. Officials said they are not happy about that.

Nick Berberian with the Chicago Yacht Club said publicly for the first time that the club wanted to keep the inflatable life vest Jon Santarelli was wearing the day he died when he fell off a boat during the Race to Mackinac.

"We understand Mr. Santarelli's family wanted it," said Berberian.

They all wanted it. To learn why, according to the medical examiner's office, the vest did not inflate. Berberian said the U.S. Coast Guard was prepared to do a full analysis of the vest.

But two days after the body was found on July 28...

"Somehow the body got transferred from the medical examiner's office to the funeral home and as part of the cremation was destroyed," said Berberian.

CBS 2 reported last Friday that it was the Proko Funeral home in Kenosha, Wisconsin that cremated the vest along with the body.

But contrary to Berberian's statements, sources in the medical examiner's office told CBS 2 that "no one, family or otherwise wanted the device."

However, Berberian said the U.S. Coast Guard did get a chance to inspect the remains of the vest after the cremation.

"We have since launched an investigation," he said.

What they concluded about Santarelli's vest is that the CO2 cartridge inside the device that should have caused the vest to automatically inflate when it hit the water didn't go off.

But there was evidence it did go off in the incinerator indicating it failed to work properly.

"Had it been discharged there would have been no explosion of the cylinder because there would have been no gas trapped in the cylinder."

What was the brand name of the vest? The Chicago Yacht Club said it is trying to determine that through interviews. The organization won't say publicly until they know for sure.

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