1 Dead, 4 Missing After Sudden Squall Hits Alabama Sailing Regatta

Regatta participant Robert Luiten of Mobile, Ala., right, rejoices on learning that his son, Leonard Luiten, was found after their boat capsized in a storm on Saturday, in Dauphin Island, Ala. The Coast Guard is still searching for four missing sailors. (AL.COM/Landov)
Regatta participant Robert Luiten of Mobile, Ala., right, rejoices on learning that his son, Leonard Luiten, was found after their boat capsized in a storm on Saturday, in Dauphin Island, Ala. The Coast Guard is still searching for four missing sailors. (AL.COM/Landov)

At least one person is dead and four others missing after a powerful storm swept through a race regatta in Alabama's Mobile Bay, capsizing sailboats.

Ideal race conditions suddenly turned Saturday afternoon, when winds quickly went from 15 knots to 50 knots, generating waves as high as 10 feet along the 18-mile course.

One body was plucked from the water and a Coast Guard search continued through the night and into this morning for four sailors still unaccounted for, The Associated Press quoted Petty officer Carlos Vega as saying.

"Apparently there were a number of vessels that became distressed, either capsized or what have you. They were scattered anywhere from Dauphin Island Bridge all the way out into Mobile Bay and across to Fort Morgan. It was a wide area," Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier told AL.com.

Collier said more than 100 sailboats and as many as 200 sailors were participating in the Dauphin Island regatta in Mobile Bay.

"It's been a very tragic day," Michael Smith, with the Buccaneer yacht club, told WSFA-TV. "We've had a lot of breakage, missing people, fatalities."

Survivors Randy Rutledge and Rhonda Morgan Gilreath, speaking to AL.com, recounted how they were just 15 minutes from the finish line at Dauphin Island Bridge when their 23-foot sailboat was swamped by the steep waves.

"It was just unbelievable how high the waves were," Gilreath said. "They were just bashing you from every side."

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