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  • Dauphin Island Disaster

    UPDATE: 2 Bodies Recovered, 5 still missing's Michael Dumas covers Saturday's surprise weather system that took the participants and organizers
    of Mobile Bay by surprise and wreaked havok on the Dauphin Island Regatta:

    image Mike Kittrell/

    A day that should have been a sailor's delight, with winds around 15 knots, turned into a nightmare for dozens of participants in Saturday's Dauphin Island Regatta as a surging storm blew across Mobile Bay and wreaked havoc.

    At least one person died and four are still unaccounted for as search crews combed a vast swath of the bay throughout the night and into Sunday morning. Families of those missing stayed in a makeshift shelter overnight in hopes that the morning would find them reunited with their loved ones.

    As the sun went down Saturday, survivors of the 57th annual, 18-mile regatta were scattered around the Dauphin Island marina sharing stories of how they beat the odds when waves near 10 feet and winds near 60 miles per hour battered their vessels. Still others shivered as the sun set, praising God they were rescued from the waters of Mobile Bay after their boats literally sank beneath them.

    Such was the case for Randy Rutledge and Rhonda Morgan Gilreath of Rome Ga.

    The two were a mere 15 minutes from the Dauphin Island Bridge, which marks the race's finish, when the weather took a turn for the worst. Not only did their 23.5-foot boat sink in its aftermath, so did the nearby 22-foot vessel belonging to some friends of theirs, also from Rome.

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

    "We knew we were totally lost at sea, we did." -- Rhonda Morgan Gilreath

    The couple was in the water for two hours before they were rescued, and had to keep each other from giving up as they awaited help.

    "We knew we were totally lost at sea, we did," she said.

    Robert Luiten was one of a five-person crew sailing a 24-foot boat with his 18-year-old son, Lennerd, when the storm hit them. All five were thrown into the bay by the storm, which was described by one mariner as "almost like a 30-minute hurricane."

    Luiten and another crew member were rescued fairly quickly, he said, but it took about six hours until his son was found by rescuers in waters off the north side of the Dauphin Island. The joy of their reunion was tempered late Saturday, however, as two of their crew were still unaccounted for.

    "I'm just devastated with what happened," Luiten said.

    RELATED: See photos from the aftermath of Saturday's regatta.

    Capsizing wasn't the sole danger on the race course for some hit by the full-brunt of the storm, which knocked out power to 23,000 in coastal Alabama and kept parts of Dauphin Island dark into the evening.

    Brothers Christian and Bo Brodbeck were blown into the Mobile Bay shipping channel, which allows large vessels to traverse the otherwise shallow body of water and can cause anxiety for sailors even on a clear day. And Saturday afternoon was anything but, with visibility due to the storm reduced to about 50 yards, according to Bo Brodbeck.

    And then the GPS failed, which left the brothers and their two additional crew members unsure not only as to where the ship channel was, but also where their boat was in it. It was then the Brodbecks started preparing for the worst, grabbing a cell phone and waterproof radio in case they went overboard.

    "I never feared for my life until we got into the channel," Christian Brodbeck said. "At that point a ship can run over you and you don't have a chance to swim."

    Luckily, a combination of the boat's motor, along with a slight weakening of conditions, kept them from capsizing and they were able to finish the race.

    For Kevin Maurin, president of the Dauphin Island Fishing Rodeo, Saturday started off "perfect," with pleasant winds and a great outlook for the 8-person crew. He said race officials originally cancelled the regatta, only to reverse that course and give a green light after an hour day.

    Dauphin Island Regatta participant Kevin Maurin describes the storm that swept through the sailboat race Saturday, April 25, 2015, in Dauphin Island. (Mike Kittrell/

    The 30-foot sailboat they were running was on a westerly tack when Maurin's best friend, and captain, Joseph Arbour saw the squall headed their way and said, "We're fixing to have to hunker down."

    "It was a great day, everybody on the boat was having fun," Maurin said. "All of a sudden, within seconds, boom."

    According to him, Arbour immediately ordered the boat's two sails lowered, which likely saved everyone from ending up in the water.

    "As soon as they dropped, freaking hell broke loose," he said. "I was in the middle of it and it was terrible."

    A similar move helped save the day for the crew of Tony Hines's 26.5-foot boat. Blown six miles off course by the wind and waves, about an hour from the finish line, Hines and company dropped their sheets and watched as their mast came very close to submerging, which could have sunk the boat.

    And although it was at times at an 80-degree lean, the mast did not succumb, and after a while, the group decided to press on.
    "Everybody on the boat was kind of frazzled," Hines said. "We just said, 'Well, we've got to get to dirt somewhere, so let's just go ahead and finish the race.'"

    It took them 2.5 hours to finish.

    "I'm 50 and I've been sailing Mobile Bay all my life. I've never seen anything like that," he said.
    Last edited by Photoboy; 04-26-2015, 02:47 PM.
    " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery

  • #2
    Those storms come up quick this time of year down south.

    Devastating video.

    Condolences to all involved!


    • #3
      Follow Up On Dauphin Island Disaster

      The names of the dead and those feared lost after Saturday's Mobile Bay storm are still closely guarded by officials as family members are notified and given space to grieve and, in many cases, maintain hope.

      A second night of searching is currently underway in the waters in-between Middle Bay Lighthouse and Dauphin Island.

      But the fellowship of southern sailors is a small one in coastal Alabama, and according to one man who survived the Dauphin Island Regatta, the victims were the subject of quiet conversation at Mobile Yacht Club Saturday night.

      "Those of us that were out there, we all race and sail together," said Joshua Edwards. "We knew who those people were.

      "Most of us still know the names of the people they're still looking for."

      Edwards said MYC members and guests quietly exchanged personal information Saturday night, still putting together details from the 57th annual regatta that ended with tears and rescue efforts, instead of trophies and cocktails.

      Rare race imagery

      The 32-year-old Mobile man said he skippered his parents' boat, St. Somewhere, during the race, and they, along with two other "friends from the yacht club" were actually on their way home when winds around 60 knots hammered the course.

      The five-person crew was motoring north in the bay, and although the boat's sails were down, the 36-foot Catalina was heeled to the starboard at times, solely due to the wind and cresting waves.

      More than 16 minutes of the St. Somewhere's return trip was recorded on a GoPro camera Edwards strapped to his head during the storm, which led to a video he posted on YouTube which has gotten more than 2,400 views.

      In one of the most haunting images shared in the aftermath of Saturday's natural disaster, Edwards looks to the starboard side as his boat passes a much smaller vessel that's nearly on its side in the wind. He looks left in the direction of his father, Joel Hoffman, who is at the wheel, and when the camera returns to the undulating waves, the smaller craft is gone; lost in grey sea spray.

      "We were fortunate enough to be on a vessel as seaworthy as it was," Edwards said. "It was a hurricane."

      At one point, they came upon a 22-foot boat containing a family of three stranded with a swamped motor. The St. Somewhere towed the vessel back to Mobile, and the trio – which included an 11-year-old girl – told the group the winds were blowing the stranded vessel so much that their anchor was skimming across the top of the waves, Edwards said.

      The Super Bowl of sailing

      Race preparation on St. Somewhere is serious business, according to Edwards. Leading up to the regatta, he and his favorite "old salts" poured over wind graphs, weather forecasts and formed their strategy.

      "As sailors on Mobile Bay, we wait all year for that race," he said. "Every other race we race during the season is just keeping us sharp for that race to Dauphin Island."

      And the day looked good, he said, with their southerly plot culminating in "high fives and cheers" as they passed over the finish line and under the Dauphin Island Bridge.

      "We were very excited because we were very optimistic we had done the best we'd ever done in the race," Edwards said. It was our wind, it was heavy, it was throwing, it was our day.

      "And it all kind of went south very quick."

      The crew was no stranger to sailing in storms, he said, and the Saturday afternoon system looked to hold no more than what south Alabama sailors no doubt experience after enough time on the rudder.

      And so they dropped the sails and motored north. "Twenty-five minutes later it was on us," Edwards said. "No one out there knew what they were going to be in for.

      "Or else we wouldn't have gone."

      A "huge lesson" and solution moving forward?

      Back at Mobile Yacht Club on Saturday night, Edwards said he and others started discussing the future of the bay area's signature regatta.

      "It was a hard day yesterday," he said. "This race has been going on a long time and it is a big event.

      "And there is a huge lesson to be learned going forward."

      Edwards said he has heard rumors that a solution might be having more people involved, resulting in increased safety measures in case of catastrophe. That could be made possible if, instead of one of Mobile Bay's four yacht clubs hosting the event each year, they all pool resources to manage the event.

      "I think it's a good idea," he said. "We all need to come together and look out for each other."

      Full Article

      ************************************************** **************

      News Release

      April 26, 2015

      U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District External Affairs

      Contact: U.S. Coast Guard Heartland


      Office: (618) 225-9008
      UPDATE 2: Coast Guard searching for missing boaters in Mobile Bay area

      MOBILE – The Coast Guard continues to search for at least five people in the Mobile Bay area Sunday.

      Rescuers searched throughout the night for the missing boaters and have covered a total of 1,773 square miles as of 11:00 a.m., Sunday.

      More than 40 people have been rescued by a combined effort of multiple agencies and good Samaritans. One boater was rescued by a Coast Guard Station Dauphin Island rescue crew at approximately 9 p.m. Saturday.

      A strong line of thunderstorms pushed eastward across the Mobile Bay area Saturday at approximately 3:30 p.m., resulting in winds in excess of 70 miles per hour. Mariners in the area were caught off guard, including a regatta sailing event in the Dauphin Island area.

      Coast Guard Sector Mobile and Station Dauphin Island quickly responded to numerous calls for help and are coordinating search efforts.

      On scene are:

      An HC-144 Ocean Sentry and HH-60 Jayhawk crew from Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile.

      A MH65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans.

      Three 45-foot response boat – Medium crews from Coast Guard Station Dauphin Island and Pascagoula.

      A 29-foot response boat - Small from Coast Guard Station Dauphin Island.

      Many local agencies have responded as part of the South Alabama Rescue, Search and Recovery Network as well as other state and local agencies.

      ************************************************** ********************************

      While abrupt, the weather conditions responsible for at least one catastrophic storm in Mobile Bay Saturday afternoon were uncommon for this time of year but their possibility was forecast days in advance.

      The U.S. Coast Guard continued its search Monday for four boaters still unaccounted for after the storm cell slammed into the annual Dauphin Island Regatta, capsizing vessels and sending sailors into the water. Two other boaters have been confirmed dead.

      Jason Beaman, warning-coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, said the storm began as a "strong disturbance in the atmosphere" over Texas and Louisiana Saturday morning but moved suddenly east in the early afternoon, colliding with a "highly unstable atmosphere" for coastal Alabama.

      "When you woke up that morning, you noticed it was very humid for this time of year," Beaman said, adding, "Those were the ingredients in place for a strong line of thunderstorms to develop from the west."

      Specifically, he said, a bow echo formed as the squall line moved into Mobile County and across the bay, and "it became most organized over the bay as it moved into Baldwin County."

      A bow echo indicates on radar a strong signature for enhanced winds, and Beaman said it is so called because it "bulges out" and resembles an archer's bow.

      "These can be severe, and in this case it was," he said.

      Meanwhile, Beaman said the NWS began advertising the threat of severe weather four days prior to Saturday's sailboat race and issued graphical forecasts highlighting the potential as the weekend approached.

      A thunderstorm watch for all of southern Alabama, including Mobile Bay, was issued around 9:15 a.m. Saturday, alerting all residents in the affected areas to remain vigilant of rapidly changing conditions, he said.

      Ongoing search efforts in Mobile Bay will remain hampered Monday as another line of thunderstorms moves through the area, and flash flooding concerns increase as the storms are expected to continue overnight and into Tuesday.

      "We're going to have to monitor this very closely, but coastal areas are under slight risk of severe weather this afternoon," Beaman said, calling damaging winds the most likely threat but noting "we can't rule out the possibility of a tornado."

      Rainfall totals across the area are expected to hover between two and four inches throughout the storms' duration, but higher totals associated with heavier localized downpours could certainly occur, he said.

      In turn, a flash flood watch is currently in effect through at least 1 p.m. Tuesday, and Beaman said that could be extended.

      In the meantime, he encouraged area residents to not only remain "weather aware" as the storms push through the region but to consider redundancies in their warning mechanisms such as weather radios that sound alarms while one sleeps and increasingly sophisticated cell phone applications for tracking weather events in real time.

      "You really need to have more than one way of getting that warning information," he said.

      ************************************************** *********************************

      Lee Creekwood tried to pull his friend and crew member back into his sailboat as the wind and waves raged.

      Thrown overboard by the violent storm blowing apart the Dauphin Island Regatta, Kris Beall was holding on to a line wrapped around the boat's rudder.

      The 26-foot-long boat was dragging him, and no one on board could manage to reel him closer.

      And then he was gone.

      On Monday, Creekwood was struggling emotionally as he recounted the story. After searching until nearly dark, he'd learned Saturday evening that Beall had drowned.

      Beall, 27, was one of five crew members aboard the Scoundrel, a boat that Creekwood designed and built more than 40 years ago. He and Creekwood, 72, had sailed other regattas, but this was their first on Mobile Bay.
      The Scoundrel had finished the Saturday regatta and was about a mile east of the Dauphin Island bridge, headed back up the bay. "All of a sudden it hit and went to basically hurricane force," Creekwood said of the storm striking from the west.

      The boat, he said, was "knocked horizontal."

      Creekwood said he dropped himself into the water, on the side of the boat opposite the wind, to let down the sails. The boat righted itself, he said, and he climbed back in.

      That's when he saw Beall hanging on behind the boat as the wind thrust it forward.

      Creekwood said he grabbed the line, trying to draw Beall toward him, but instead almost got pulled in himself. Within seconds, he said, Beall was no longer there.

      "There was no way we could sail the boat back against 70-mile-per-hour winds," Creekwood said.

      He called the U.S. Coast Guard to relay their position and "try and keep the rest of the crew safe," he said.

      "I've now sailed thousands and thousands of miles and I've never seen a situation come up so fast," he said.

      And yet it was on land that Creekwood got the most terrible news.

      "He's a wonderful, very brilliant, very bright young man," Creekwood said of Beall, who owned Kris Beall Construction in Alexandria, La., and was from nearby Pineville.

      Creekwood described Beall as "very passionate about sailing."
      According to the Alexandra newspaper, the Town Talk, Beall is survived by his wife, Amanda Allbritton Beall. The Town Talk reported that on Sunday, she posted a Facebook message saying her husband was "the love of my life since I was 15."

      "While this is the most difficult thing I've ever faced, I know Kris was doing one of the things he loved most," Amanda Beall wrote. "He was one of the strongest and most driven people I have ever known, and I am certain that he is with our Heavenly Father now.

      "If I could only have five more minutes to tell him again how much he meant to me."
      " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery


      • #4
        Sad way to spend a weekend.

        Thoughts with family, friends and crews.

        Are lifejackets required for their regattas?


        • #5

          3rd body recovered and identified.