The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended the search for a missing boater in Saturday's deadly yacht accident just south of San Diego.
Kevin Rudolph, 53, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., William Reed Johnson Jr., 57, of Torrance, Calif., and Joseph Lester Stewart, 64, of Bradenton, Fla. died while racing between Newport, Calif. and Ensenada, Mexico. A fourth crew member remains missing.
What happened to the crew's 37-foot racing yacht remains a mystery. However on Monday night, a medical examiner listed the cause of death of three crewmembers. Two died from blunt force injuries. The other died from downing, the report stated.
Safety boat crew member Eric Lamb described a horrible scene near the Coronado Islands.
Lamb was riding in a safety boat during the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race when he spotted shards of a sailboat no more than six inches long over an area of two square miles.
Lamb, 62, told the Associated Press that the yacht looked like it "had gone through a blender."
"It was real obvious it had been hit just because the debris was so small," he said Sunday.
Lamb called the Coast Guard, and searched for identifying information. He and a partner found a life raft with a registration number and a panel with the ship's name, the Aegean.
With the Coast Guard’s guidance, Lamb found and recovered two bodies.
“We came over and pulled one of the bodies, a male, out of the water and put him on our deck and continued our search for other survivors possibly,” Lamb told NBCSanDiego via Skype from Ensenada.
The Coast Guard recovered a third body. Crews along with Mexican navy and civilian vessels scoured the waters off the shore of both countries for the fourth sailor before suspending their search Sunday evening.
On Monday, the search for the fourth crewmember was called off. Niki Burgan and her dog Rummy searched Mexican waters last night for the fourth crewmember. She founded the SoCal H20 Rescue Team after her family died in an ocean plane crash.
Their bodies were never recovered.
“You just sort of feel abandoned. You know they'll probably not alive. Your head knows that, but your heart, there's just something else going on," Burgan said.
A GPS race tracking system indicated the Aegean disappeared about 1:30 a.m. PDT Saturday, said Rich Roberts a spokesman for the race organizer.
Lamb said 1,000-foot cargo ships, automobile transport vessels and freighters are common in this area. It’s possible a larger vessel could have hit the boat and not even known it.
Two race participants who were in the area at the time the Aegean vanished told The Associated Press they saw or heard a freighter.
Part of the ship's wreckage is at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in San Diego. Officials have not determined the cause of the accident, and would not speculate on what ship, if any, might have collided with the sailboat.
Hundreds of race participants held a moment of silence at the Newport Ocean Sailing Association's award ceremony, many of them stunned and puzzled. Skies were clear and winds were light when the boat went missing on the course from Newport Beach, Calif., to Ensenada.
The deaths are the first fatalities in the race's 65 years.
Leslie Rudolph, wife of one of the crew members, said her husband was competing in the race for a third time. She told the Associated Press her husband trusted the boat's captain and never had qualms about sailing.
In Redondo Beach, where the Aegean was based, friends of the boat owner, who is missing, say they're shocked.
“Who knows what happened, but it's just a scary thought,” said friend Jay Wilson.
“Makes you shudder thinking what must have gone, been going through those crews mind when this happened. I feel really badly for them.”
“You never think about, you go out to have fun, you go out to do your thing. You never think this may be something you don't come back from,” said friend John Seebe.