THUNDER BAY, ON --- July 18, 2011 --- As of Monday, July 18, it has been confirmed by the U. S. Coast Guard and it is with great regret that the Chicago Yacht Club acknowledges the deaths of two sailors who were competing in the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club’s Race to Mackinac. in a statement of their website.
A severe thunderstorm crossed Lake Michigan around midnight EDT last night. Windgusts were reported at 52 knots with waves of 4-6 feet.
The Coast Guard was notified at 12:40 am via VHF radio by crew members from one of the competing boats "Sociable" that another of the competing boats, "WingNuts," had capsized in these severe conditions. Five sailors were pulled from the water on arrival to the scene and one other sailor was later rescued. The six sailors were rescued by the crew of "Sociable."
The accident occurred approximately 13 nautical miles northwest of Charlevoix, Michigan, and 10 miles east of South Fox Island.
The "Sociable" skipper called all boats for assistance on Channel 16 and ten boats in the vicinity immediately abandoned the race to join in search efforts for two missing sailors.
The two lost sailors were "WingNuts" skipper Mark Morley, 51, and Suzanne Bickel, 41, both from Saginaw, MI.
Mark Morley had 44 years of sailing experience, including six Chicago Mackinacs and 85 qualifying races. Suzanne Bickel had sailed in two previous Chicago-Mackinac Races, with 16 qualifying races.
In a brief statement Commodore Joseph S. Haas said, "On the behalf of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, the Board of Directors and Flag Officers, we express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the crew of "WingNuts." The crew of this boat exemplified the spirit of the Chicago Mac that is steeped in tradition of family, friends and passion for the water."
The search for two missing sailing race participants concluded this morning as crews found the two boaters unresponsive in the vicinity of their capsized boat.
Divers from a Charlevoix County dive team found the two boaters at 8:44 a.m., EST.
The two boaters were participating in the Chicago Yacht Club's Race to Mackinac.
The U.S. Coast Guard received initial notification from a private company that monitors personal locator beacons, reporting that two PLBs aboard the sailing vessel Wingnuts had been activated.
Radio watchstanders at Coast Guard Station Charlevoix, Mich., established communications with the sailing vessel Sociable, who were assisting with the coordination of a search by other responding sailing vessels in the vicinity. The crew of the Sociable pulled six of the eight crewmembers from the Wingnuts out of the water.
A rescue crew aboard a 41-foot Utility Boat from Coast Guard Station Charlevoix, Mich., arrived on scene and located the capsized sailing vessel. Crewmembers knocked on the hull of the vessel in an attempt to discern whether or not people were trapped inside. Receiving no response from inside the vessel, the rescue crew began their initial search pattern.
A crew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., also began searching.
The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw arrived on scene to assume the role of on-scene commander and coordinate ongoing search efforts. Search and rescue coordinators at Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie contacted Charlevoix County to request dive team support. The Air Station Traverse City helicopter crew transported the dive team to cutter Mackinaw, which was used as a dive platform.