A severe storm struck a popular Alabama regatta Saturday, resulting in at least two deaths. Five boaters were still missing while the United States Coast Guard continued its search operation late Sunday night into Monday morning off Mobile Bay.
There were reportedly about 100 boats in the bay Saturday when the sudden storm struck, capsizing at least 10 of the vessels, including three that were racing in the annual Dauphin Island regatta, operated this year by the Fairhope Yacht Club.
At least one of the five missing individuals was not involved with the regatta, a Coast Guard spokesperson told the AL.com news site.
“The victims include not only the members that were involved in the regatta yesterday but as well as other mariners that were on the water at the time of the incident,” said Coast Guard Captain Duke Walker on Sunday.
While there are five boaters still unaccounted for, rescuers appear to have given up hope that they will be found alive. Major Steve Thompson of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency called the search “a recovery operation,” rather than a rescue.
The Coast Guard, however, saved 40 people whose boats had capsized in the storm on Saturday.
“Our guys worked hard and long to rescue people,” Walker said. “This is an awful tragedy and our hearts go out to the families.”
The storm hit around 4:30 pm on Saturday in the midst of the 57th annual Dauphin Bay regatta, an event hosted by one of the four yacht clubs located there on a rotating basis each year.
According to witness accounts, the storm caught the boaters off guard, starting as merely a strong but otherwise normal gust of wind — but before the yachters knew it or were able to get their boats and themselves to safety, the winds accelerated as high as 70 mph, with waves reaching 10 feet in height.
The whole thing was over in a matter of a few minutes — but not before leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
The Coast Guard has not released the names of the two dead or five missing boaters, holding back until their families can be properly notified.
Among the survivors, however, were a Georgia couple who clung to each other while floating in the water for about two hours until rescuers came and lifted them to safety, as well as a father-son boating team who were reunited on the shore.
More details on the regatta disaster are expected later on Monday, including the possibility of more deaths.
[Image: WALA TV Screen Capture]