1 missing boater found safe after deadly storm at sea

Well-wishers congratulate regatta participant Robert Luiten of Mobile, Ala., in blue shirt, on word that his son, Leonard Luiten, was found several hours after their boat capsized in a storm Saturday, April 25, 2015, in Dauphin Island, Ala. The Coast Guard says five people are missing after several sailboats participating in a regatta capsized during a storm in Mobile Bay Saturday. (AP Photo/Mike Kittrell, AL.com)

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (AP) — One of five boaters believed missing after a deadly storm off the Alabama coast has turned up safe at home, but four others remain unaccounted for, Coast Guard officers said.

Authorities found the person after checking the names of people who had registered for the annual Dauphin Island Regatta, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Seth Johnson said Monday. It was unclear if that person was on the water during Saturday’s storm.

Meanwhile, crews continued searching for four boaters still missing after the powerful storm capsized several sailboats, killing at least two mariners, in a regatta near Mobile Bay.

Photos: Dauphin Island disaster regatta

“It’s still a search and rescue case and when we work a search and rescue case, we search for survivors,” Johnson said at midmorning on Monday.

The weather was worse Monday than during Sunday’s search efforts, and the Coast Guard is asking volunteers to stay on the shore and look for possible survivors there.

The National Weather Service was warning that more thunderstorms could be coming late Monday, with very heavy rains possible through Monday night.

“We would like any of the good Samaritans to be off the water just for safety reasons,” Johnson said. “We appreciate their goodwill as a volunteer and if they’d like to, they can still search the shoreline.”

One body was discovered after Saturday’s storm and another Sunday morning, said Major Steve Thompson, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety’s Marine Patrol Division.

Crews are using boats and planes to search the Alabama waters, including areas near Dauphin Island where anxious relatives have gathered at a Coast Guard station awaiting updates, authorities said. Red Cross volunteers and an ambulance also were at the site.

Names of the missing and deceased have not been released. One person was rescued Saturday evening.

“We’re going to keep searching throughout the morning,” Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos Vega said before dawn broke Monday morning on the Alabama coast.

The daylight on Monday was expected to aid the efforts, he said.

“It definitely helps out more because it gives more visibility in the water,” Vega said.

More than 100 sailboats and as many as 200 people were participating in the 57th running of the Dauphin Island regatta in Mobile Bay when the storm hit Saturday.

Gary Garner, commodore of the Fairhope Yacht Club which organized the race, said members are “heartbroken.”

“We are helping and cooperating fully with the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities in accounting for all of the sailors,” he said in an emailed statement.

Officials on Sunday said not all of the missing were taking part in the regatta.

Speaking at a news conference in Dauphin Island, Thompson called Saturday’s events “an awful tragedy.”

“Our hearts go out to the families, and we are using all available resources,” he added.

Johnson said earlier Sunday that the Coast Guard will investigate the weather conditions and the decision to go ahead with the regatta.

The conditions were calm early Saturday before the storm, according to tourists Joe B. Stuard and Andrea Stuard of Wilmer, who were watching Sunday as search boats moved offshore.

They were riding their bikes on Dauphin Island as the storm blew through around 4 p.m. Saturday. “We wouldn’t have been out on our bikes if we knew it was going to come in like that. It was fast and quick. We made a dash for shelter,” Joe B. Stuard said.

National Weather Service Mobile meteorologist John Purdy said Sunday that the storm moved eastward through Louisiana and Mississippi quickly, prompting a severe thunderstorm watch at 1:36 p.m. Saturday and a warning less than an hour later.

The National Weather Service then issued a special marine warning around 3 p.m. for boaters on several waterways including Mobile Bay, warning of a line of thunderstorms producing gusty winds, high waves, dangerous lightning and heavy rains. The notice urged boaters to “seek safe harbor immediately.”

“When storms are moving quickly as in this case, things will change very rapidly especially if you are on a boat in the open waters,” Purdy said.

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