Stephanie Chuang reports on the deadly sailing capsize on the San Francisco Bay.
This story was first published on May 11, 2013
Many more questions than answers surfaced at what was - at times an emotional - news conference on Friday, where America's Cup officials tried to explain how an Olympic sailor died in the San Francisco Bay during a training exercise.
The wind wasn't too gusty, the water wasn't too choppy, and the training was just a normal, "standard" maneuver in the bay, said Regatta Director and America's Cup Management CEO Iain Murray. So why the 72-foot long catamaran, nicknamed "Big Red" took a "nose dive" on Thursday at 1 p.m., trapping 36-year-old two-time Olympic medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson underneath for 10 minutes is still a mystery. Simpson died about an hour later, despite life-saving efforts.
Murray said the conditions Thursday were typical on San Francisco Bay. He said Artemis Racing's catamaran was attempting to change direction and turn down wind when it capsized. Though difficult, the maneuver was normal, he said. Murray said Simpson was on a trampoline on the windward side of the yacht with crew members and got trapped under some solid sections of the yacht, out of site to those on board who were looking for him. "How he got to where he got to we do not know,'' Murray said.
Murray, and his counterpart, America's Cup Event Authority CEO Stephen Barclay, would not, make a decision on whether Simpson's death would be reason enough to call off the super Bowl of yachting events - the America's Cup - scheduled to kick off in July.
"Nothing is off the table," Barclay said, adding that no data had been retrieved from the AC 72, and no members of the Swedish Artemis racing team had yet been interviewed. None of the crew was in attendance at the news conference.
Still, Barclay added that the Artemis racing team had not made any announcements about dropping out of the big race. The other challengers are: Oracle Team USA< Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy's Luna Rossa.
Both America's Cup executives vowed, however, to learn what happened and to try to prevent anything like this from happening again.
"We take the safety of this sport very seriously," Murray said. Sailors are taught to "respect the ocean at all times."
Simpson was also wearing the standard equipment of a personal flotation device and an oxygen tank when the massive boat capsized.
As he addressed the throng of media at Pier 27 in San Francisco, Murray - whose responsibility includes everything that happens out on the water during the America's Cup race - teared up and took long pauses as he spoke. He called Simpson a "good friend" and a "larger-than-life character."
Artemis Team training was canceled on Friday and will likely not resume until at least Monday, official said.
While officials were shy on details into the investigation, which will be led by the San Francisco police department, no one was shy about singing the praises of Simpson, who had won Olympic gold in 2008 and silver in 2012 for his native England. He leaves behind a wife and two young sons.
"He was the heart and soul of the team," Tim Jeffery, Oracle Team USA spokesman told NBC Bay Area in a previous interview. "He was perpetually happy. It was like he had a little box inside that gave him a sunny outlook on life."
Simpson joined the team in February, providing his crew with weather and tactics support, according to the America's Cup website. Jeffery said Simpson's worth to the team was his ability was to "spot the breeze, read the breeze."
Magnus Auguston, the team's "grinder," said Simpson was was of the "finest guys I ever met," and a wonderful sailor, as well as husband and father.
And the British Olympic Association described him as a "treasured and accomplished member" of its teams.
On Friday, the same website showed dark gray clouds hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge, near where Simpson died on Thursday, with a quote from the Swedish team's CEO, Paul Cayard, simply stating, "Our prayers are with Andrew Simpson's family."
5 Things to Know about the America's Cup (Courtesy AP)
WHAT IS THE AMERICA'S CUP?
The America's Cup is considered sailing's most prestigious event and, along with the Olympics and World Cup soccer, among the world's largest global sporting events in terms of its economic impact. It began in 1851 when the New York Yacht Club's schooner, `America,' bested the British off the coast of England.
WHO OVERSEES IT?
The winner is responsible for choosing the site of the next race and making arrangements for it. Software billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing won the cup in 2010 off the coast of Spain. Ellison, who won the cup representing the San Francisco-based Golden Gate Yacht Club, chose the San Francisco Bay.
WHO IS COMPETING?
After organizers predicted about a dozen entries, only three competitors signed up to challenge Ellison for the America's Cup. They are: Artemis, which is representing the Royal Swedish Yacht Club; Luna Rossa Challenge, representing the Italian yacht club Circolo della Vela Sicilia and Emirates Team New Zealand, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Competing teams can spend more than $100 million to construct and race the space-age 72-foot dual-hull boats.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
The three challengers will compete in a series of match races beginning July 7. The top two finishers will compete in a best of seven semi-final starting Aug. 6. The first to four victories will take on Oracle Racing starting Aug. 17. The finalists will race twice-a-day in a best-of-13 series. The first to seven wins is champion.
WHAT DOES THE COURSE LOOK LIKE?
Organizers boast the 34th America's Cup will be the most accessible to on-shore spectators in the event's history. The compact course stretches from inside the Golden Gate Bridge, past Alcatraz Island to Piers 27 and 29 along San Francisco's busy waterfront district, circling in front of the city's iconic Fisherman's Wharf area.
NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang, Cheryl Hurd and Jean Elle contributed to this report, as well as the Associated Press.