Search continues for boater who went overboard in Race to Mackinac

A sailor in the famous "Race to Mackinac" on Lake Michigan fell overboard and vanished Saturday afternoon.

CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - Chicago Police were continuing the search for a man who fell off a sailboat Saturday on Lake Michigan during the Chicago Yacht Club’s 110th annual Race to Mackinac.

The U.S. Coast Guard joined police and fire teams Saturday afternoon in the search for Jon Santarelli, of Chicago, who went overboard a few miles east of Navy Pier about 3 p.m. from “Imedi,” a boat competing in the turbo section of the race, according to the yacht club.

Chicago Police began their search again Sunday morning around 7 a.m. after the coast guard and Chicago Fire department terminated their searches about 8:30 p.m. the night before, according to police and Petty Officer Brian McCrum, a spokesman for the Coast Guard Great Lakes district. Fire department resources would be available for the search if requested by police.

The coast guard’s decision to suspend their search Saturday night was made after other crew members from “Imedi” reported that the man’s personal flotation device did not inflate and that he was seen going under water and did not resurface, McCrum said. “Imedi” has 13 registered crew members, most of them from the Chicago area.

The 52-foot boat was about five nautical miles from the starting line of the race near the Chicago Harbor break wall when a “man overboard” alert went out, race organizers said.

The 52-year-old was wearing red weather gear and a blue vest when he went overboard, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Chief Warrant Officer Matt James, who called the Imedi “one of the larger and faster participants in the race.”

“Santorelli had more than a decade of offshore racing experience, and was a core member of the Imedi Racing team as well as the greater Chicago sailing community,” said the yacht club in an online statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and teammates.”

Fire department crews suspended their search about 6 p.m. amid harsh conditions on the lake, but the Coast Guard continued canvassing the area with helicopters and boats, searching the area between Navy Pier and 31st Street as gusting winds stirred waves up to 6 feet, officials said.

At least five “good Samaritan boats” — other race participants or locally owned boats — were also searching the water.

The search covered nearly 47 square miles, said the yacht club.

The search mission was being operated by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan Command Center out of Milwaukee, who were coordinating with race directors. Four crew members on the response boat were searching the area, along with four others aboard a Coast Guard helicopter, and a three-person Chicago police crew.

The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, a 333-mile challenge with more than 300 boats sailing from Navy Pier to Mackinac Island, Michigan, is the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world.

The cruising section of this year’s race took off Friday afternoon with more than 2,500 sailors from 39 states and 16 countries. The racing section started at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The course starts east of Navy Pier, ending at the line between the lighthouse on Round Island and the race committee trailer on Mackinac Island near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Five people had to be rescued during last year’s race when two boats capsized off the Wisconsin coast. Turbulent weather forced 98 boats — nearly a third of the fleet — to retire early because of storms and waves.