Coast Guard ends search for Missing Full Crew Farallones Race competitors off California coast

An image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows one of three crew members from the yacht Low Speed Chase being rescued from the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco Saturday, April 14, 2012. The sail boat carrying eight crew members ran aground during a race Saturday, killing one. Four others remain missing.
AP Photo/US Coast Guard

(AP) SAN FRANCISCO - The Coast Guard suspended its search Sunday night for four yacht crew members who went missing off the Northern California coast after a weekend racing accident and has no plans to resume it, officials said.

Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield said the search was reluctantly halted at sundown Sunday after aircraft and boats searched more than 5,000 square miles of ocean over more than 30 hours.

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

1 dead, 4 missing in yacht race accident

The crewmembers — Alan Cahill, of Tiburon, Calif.; Jordan Fromm, of San Rafael, Calif.; Elmer Morrissey, of Ireland; Alexis Busch, of Larkspur, Calif. — were thrown into the 50-degree waters when a series of disastrous events caused their sailboat to run aground during a race Saturday near the Farallon Islands, about 25 miles offshore.

The body of 46-year-old Marc Kasanin of Belvedere, Calif., was pulled from the water hours after the accident. The three remaining crew members survived.

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 Saturday's accident brought rare tragedy to the august race and the San Francisco Bay Area's large sailing community.

One crew member died and four others went missing after being swept into the sea after two strong waves swept them from their boat near the rocky Farallon Islands, the halfway point of the 54-mile race that began at daybreak in San Francisco and had 49 entrants.

The San Francisco Yacht Club 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, club director Ed Lynch said.

"The race community is a very tight-knit group of people, and obviously this tragedy has reached far and wide around the world," Lynch said. "It's an event that will give everybody pause."

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 Kasanin.

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, Coast Guard Petty Officer Levi Read said. Three helicopters, a surveillance plane, two patrol boats and a larger cutter were visually searching a 15-mile by 30-mile swath of water around the islands, as well as shoreline areas Sunday for the missing crew members.

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

"We wouldn't have all the assets we have out there now if we weren't hopeful," he said.

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.