Search for missing sailors continues in Alabama

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A multi-agency search for three boaters missing in Alabama’s Mobile Bay area continued through Tuesday night, three days after a potent squall line decimated much of the fleet that participated in a popular annual regatta on Saturday.

The number of missing people was reduced to three when a body was recovered in the vicinity of an offshore gas platform in Mobile Bay earlier Tuesday. A good Samaritan discovered the body while fishing in the area and alerted authorities, who recovered the person, according to the Coast Guard.

Since the search began, rescue crews have searched 5,650 square miles in Mobile Bay. Local and state volunteers and first-responder agencies have searched the shoreline.

The storm blasted through the Dauphin Island Regatta fleet on Saturday, delivering near-hurricane-force wind and abnormally high 8-foot seas in the shallow bay and leaving three dead and three missing. More than 40 people were pulled from the bay by rescuers and good Samaritans. About 476 people were at sea and involved in the regatta at the time of the storm.

A total of 125 vessels were registered for the race, but eight withdrew before it began. The Coast Guard estimates that 117 boats were on the water at the time of the storm; eight from the race were sunk or incapacitated.

Shell-shocked survivors said the ordeal was worse than any previous storm they had weathered.

Sailor Bo Brodbeck said it “hit us, and it hit us like a Mack truck. One second we’re up, the next second … the mast is laying in the water.”

The disaster has devastated the local sailing community.

On Tuesday, anguished families made the first public statements about their loved ones and asked for prayers.

“We’ve felt each and every prayer, and we know God is in control and we are drawing on his strength,” Jennifer Hoffman, stepdaughter of missing sailor J.C. Brown, told AL.com.

As the search continues and an investigation begins, AL.com reports that a fluke miscommunication is being blamed for delaying the start of the race, a postponement that was disastrous and possibly fatal for some participants.

An official at Fairhope Yacht Club, which hosted the event, said Tuesday that concerns about stormy weather had nothing to do with the delay in the start of the race and that organizers had no idea that the day would bring a sudden blast of gale-force conditions.

Many sailors have reported that the start times for Saturday’s race were delayed by about 90 minutes. Some have said they heard that the race was canceled, but later reinstated. According to a race official, the confusion stemmed from an erroneous cancellation announcement posted to the Fairhope Yacht Club’s website

The later start meant that most of the race’s participants were still on the water when a violent squall enveloped Mobile Bay at about 3 p.m., according to the news report.