SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS/KPIX 5) – An America’s Cup racing boat crew member died and another was hurt when their catamaran overturned on San Francisco Bay Thursday afternoon during a practice run.
The 36-year-old deceased sailor, identified as Olympic gold medalist Andrew “Bart” Simpson of the United Kingdom, was “well-known and regarded as an expert racer,” said San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
Rescuers estimated Simpson had been underwater for about 10 minutes after becoming trapped under the 72-foot Artemis Racing AC-72 vessel when it capsized around 1 p.m. within sight of the Ferry Building and Treasure Island.
Simpson was pulled from the Bay near the St. Francis Yacht Club and Hayes-White said he was pronounced dead there after 20 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation efforts failed to revive him. Another sailor suffered a laceration but was not seriously injured.
A Team Oracle boat was nearby at the time of the capsize and picked up the ten uninjured Artemis Racing crew members and transported them back to Artemis headquarters in Alameda.
It was unclear what caused the boat to capsize; U.S. Coast Guard and fire officials noted there were afternoon winds of between 15 and 20 knots on the Bay – which they said are considered high, but not excessive.
A report on the website for Wired magazine suggested the problem was with the boat’s engineering or construction that caused a beam to give way and one of the hulls to snap. Wired did not cite a source for its information and there was no immediate confirmation.
The extent of the damage to the capsized boat was unknown, according to the Coast Guard. It had a commercial salvage boat tow the vessel to Clipper Cove, between Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island for assessment.
The America’s Cup race is scheduled to run from July through September, and four teams are currently training in the Bay to compete for sailing’s most prestigious trophy. Artemis Racing, which has two specially-built boats that can reach speeds of 45 mph, represents the Royal Swedish Yacht Club team.
Thursday’s deadly wreck left the racing community in sorrow as it capped a series of setbacks for the America’s Cup in San Francisco, which includes prior capsizing incidents.
“The entire Artemis Racing team is devastated by what happened,” said the racing group’s CEO Paul Cayard during a late afternoon news conference. “We obviously had a tragic day on the Bay today… a shocking experience to go through.”
Added San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in a statement: “This unexpected accident on the Bay leaves our hearts heavy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Andrew “Bart” Simpson’s family and friends at this time of tremendous sadness.”
This was only the second time a sailor has died during training for the America’s Cup, according to race officials. The one other death took place overseas in 1999 when Martin Wizner of the Spanish Challenge died almost instantly after being hit in the head by a broken piece of equipment.
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