Olympic sailor dies after yacht capsizes off coast of California

Andrew Simpson (right) and Iain Percy, celebrate after winning the Gold Medal in their class at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Andrew Simpson (right) and Iain Percy, celebrate after winning the Gold Medal in their class at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
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OLYMPIC gold-medal winning sailor Andrew Simpson has died after his catamaran capsized during a training session for the America’s Cup.

Simpson, 36, was sailing with the Swedish Artemis Racing team in San Francisco Bay when the yacht turned over and he became trapped underneath.

The sailor, affectionately known as “Bart”, was one of 11 crew members aboard the 72ft vessel when it capsized at about 8.30pm British time on Thursday.

He was trapped underwater by the AC72 catamaran’s platform for about 10 minutes, Artemis said, and doctors in the water and on the shore could not revive him after he was freed from the wreckage.

Paul Cayard, Artemis’ chief executive, said the entire team was “devastated” by what had happened.

He said: “We obviously had a tragic day today on the bay and our thoughts and prayers are with Bart Simpson’s, Andrew Simpson’s, family, his wife and kids, and also with the rest of the team-mates.

“It is a shocking experience to go through and we have a lot to deal with in the next few days in terms of assuring everybody’s well-being.”

The accident happened near Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Footage showed the yacht’s sail lying on the water’s surface and one of its two red hulls raised in the air as rescue boats surrounded it.

Bart Rugo, a member of the US Coast Guard, told the San Francisco Chronicle that winds in the area the boat had capsized were “a little above normal”.

He said: “You always have to pay attention to the wind. If you don’t make a turn at the right time with a boat like that, it’s easy to go over. With that much sail, the margin of error is small.”

Simpson was taken to a yacht club on the shore where paramedics performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, but he was later pronounced dead. Another sailor suffered minor injuries.

The sailor, who lived in Sherborne, in Dorset, won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and silver in last year’s Games in London, both in the Star class, as well as a gold in the World Championships in Brazil in 2010.

He was part of the Artemis Racing team that planned to challenge for the 34th America’s Cup, and was the team’s strategist.

The team was training for this summer’s competition, which is due to run from July until September.

Among his team-mates was childhood friend and Olympic partner Iain Percy, who is Artemis’ sailing team director and tactician.

In a statement the America’s Cup organisers said: “The thoughts of everyone involved are with the family of Andrew Simpson and the members of Artemis Racing.

“Andrew was an immensely popular and respected member of the sailing community, and his two Olympic medals were testament to his talent.

“His easygoing personality made him loved by many; always friendly, always smiling and always supportive of others.”

The Olympian lived in a terraced house close to the centre of historic Sherborne with his wife, Leah, and their two young children.

The family had temporarily moved to San Francisco so he could focus on training for the America’s Cup. A tribute was posted on a neighbourhood noticeboard close to their home yesterday.

A yachting boss and senior London 2012 executive pulled out of an honours ceremony at Buckingham Palace yesterday following Mr Simpson’s death.

Sir Keith Mills, the deputy chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, was due to be made a Knight Grand Cross, the highest grade of knighthood.

The investiture is supposed to be a day of celebration and Sir Keith withdrew because he did not feel it appropriate to attend after the sailor’s death.