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Chicago-Mackinac Race: Two Boaters Dead After Sailboat Capsizes

Chicago Mackinac Boaters Missing

First Posted: 07/18/11 10:13 AM ET Updated: 09/17/11 06:12 AM ET

DETROIT -- Officials with the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac sailing race say two crew members of a boat that capsized in Lake Michigan are dead.

A Charlevoix County dive team recovered the two boaters on Monday several about eight hours after their boat, WingNuts, was reported to have capsized. Six other crew members were rescued.

The Coast Guard initially said the two who died were "unresponsive" when found.

Race to Mackinac officials said in a statement that the two crew members were 51-year-old skipper Mark Morley and 41-year-old Suzanne Bickel, both of Saginaw. The statement says both were race veterans.

Officials say a severe thunderstorm with strong wind gusts was moving through the area when the boat capsized early Monday near the Fox Islands, west of Charlevoix during the Chicago Yacht Club race.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Two people whose boat capsized during the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac Island race were found "unresponsive" by rescue divers, the Coast Guard said Monday, hours after six others who were on board were rescued.

Petty Officer John Masson of the Coast Guard's government affairs office in Cleveland said he was not in position to say whether the boaters were alive or dead when they were found by a Charlevoix County dive team about eight hours after the boat, WingNuts, was reported to have capsized.

Another boat competing in the race, Sociable, notified authorities early Monday that the 35-foot sailboat had overturned and that it took six of the eight WingNuts crew members on board, the Coast Guard said.

All six of the people recovered were wearing life preservers, and they were taken to the Coast Guard station in Charlevoix for evaluation, the Coast Guard said.

The boat capsized near the Fox Islands, west of Charlevoix, which is across Lake Michigan and about 270 miles from Navy Pier in Chicago, where the Chicago Yacht Club race began.

WingNuts is based in Saginaw, and seven of the eight crewmembers registered for the race are from Michigan, including three from Midland, two from Saginaw, and one each from Ann Arbor and Grandville, according to the race website. One of the crewmembers is from Chicago.

Thunderstorms had reportedly moved through the area overnight, and the air and water temperatures early Monday were in the low 70s, with 4- to 6-foot waves.

Chip Cummings, who lives in Rockford and whose 16-year-old son, C.J. was among those brought aboard Sociable, told The Associated Press that the crew had prepared for storms by lowering WingNuts' sails but were overcome by sudden, strong winds and waves.

"They knew it was coming but it just sort of caught the boat the wrong way," Chip Cummings said. He said his son and other crewmates pressed alerts on their live vests alerting the Coast Guard they were in trouble.

He said one crew member was able to undo the harness that was attaching him and the other sailors to the boat, then released C.J.'s harness, enabling both of them to get out of the water and onto the hull.

Cummings said his son is exhausted but doing OK and staying in Charlevoix.

On their website, race organizers said the tracking system racers and fans use to follow the competition online failed, and that the Coast Guard was closely monitoring the fleet and reporting positional information to race officials.

Degener said the tracking system's failure did not hinder or delay rescue efforts, and the Coast Guard said in a news release that a private company that monitors locator beacons notified it that two beacons aboard WingNuts had been activated.

According to the race website, 355 boats and roughly 3,500 crew members took part in this year's race, which starts at Chicago's Navy Pier and finishes off of Mackinac Island, near where lakes Michigan and Huron meet. The first race was held in 1898, and organizers began holding it every year starting in 1921. This year's race is the 103rd running.

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Associated Press writer John Flesher in Traverse City contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.cycracetomackinac.com

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Filed by Jen Sabella  |