Search for missing sailors now a recovery effort

(KGO)
April 17, 2012 10:13:57 AM PDT
The Coast Guard has ended its search for the four missing crew members of the racing yacht Low Speed Chase which ran aground on the Farallon Islands on Saturday; it is now a recovery effort to find their bodies.

The members of the San Francisco Yacht Club understand and accept the Coast Guard's decision to call off the search and now they say they are preparing to pay tribute to all those lost in Saturday's race.

As the racing yacht Low Speed Chase sits empty and grounded on a rocky shoreline, those who knew the five sailors lost in Saturday's race say there was no way to predict the boat would be swamped by rogue waves.

"It was normal conditions, but normal conditions in the ocean are rough," San Francisco Yacht Club Director Ed Lynch said. "Nothing was reported unusual on the race course itself. This just happens to be one of our boats in a really bad spot at a really bad time."

For the Farallon Islands race on Saturday, experienced sailors say the conditions were pretty typical for that part of the ocean -- 12-15 foot swells and 25 knot winds. Life vests were mandatory for the race, but safety tethers were optional. Racing veteran Steve Taft says they're not widely used unless the conditions are exceptionally bad.

"You can't really go that far and if you're trying to do a maneuver on the boat you need the freedom to move around," Taft said.

Of the eight people on board Saturday, three were rescued, one was found dead and four remain missing.

The missing include 25-year-old San Rafael resident Jordan Fromm and Tiburon resident Alan Cahill -- both considered world class sailors.

Cahill's friend Elmer Morrisey was also aboard the yacht. Morrissey is a visiting energy scientist from Ireland. He was remembered Monday by co-workers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

"He was outdoorsy guy, played hockey and kite surfing and loved the outdoors," Mary Ann Piette said. "He was very successful rising star."

Also among the missing is Alexis Busch, who was a bat girl for the San Francisco Giants and the first girl to hold the position in Major League Baseball. Busch was the only woman among the four missing. She was not a member of the club, but was the girlfriend of one of surviving crew member Nick Vos, who broke his leg in the accident.

Along with Vos, yacht owner and captain James Bradford and Brian Chong were also rescued.

Belvedere resident and San Francisco Yacht Club member Mac Kasanin is the only crew member to be confirmed dead by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has suspended their search for survivors having covered 5,000 square miles and utilizing numerous boats, planes and helicopters, including two from the Air National Guard.

"There's no cookbook answer as to when to suspend a search," Coast Guard Cmdr. Tom Stuhlreyer said. "We take in a variety of factors including the weather, temperature of water, the type of incident that took place and the location where the incident took place."

"The transitioning from the search stopping, transitioning to the possibility that we'll never recover any of the four sailors lost is just very difficult to kind of warp your arms around," Lynch said.

The area where the yacht is grounded, about 28 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, is part of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge and a protected habitat, so at some point, it will have to be removed by a salvage company.

In the meantime, the 1,400 members of the San Francisco Yacht Club are planning for services and memorials to honor their lost sailors.

Laura Anthony, Wayne Freedman, Vic Lee and Alan Wang contributed to this story.


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