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America’s Cup officials promise full investigation

May 10, 2013, 1:13 PM EDT

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America’s Cup officials have promised a full investigation into the safety of their new sailing vessels after British Olympic gold medalist Andrew Simpson died Thursday amid an accident during team practice in San Francisco Bay.

Simpson became trapped beneath his crew’s 72-foot catamaran for ten minutes after the boat flipped and capsized in heavy winds. First responders were unable to revive Simpson once he was pulled from the boat’s wreckage.

America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay said he plans to find out exactly what happened Thursday to ensure the safety of his athletes in the future.

“Artemis Racing, Andrew, and his team were out there practicing,” Barclay told the London Telegraph. “They weren’t in event mode or anything like that so what we’ll be doing is reviewing the circumstances and try to understand exactly what happened and remove all the speculation to find out the facts.

“Then we’ll review what we’ve found and if there is a need to make changes, we’ll make them. But we won’t make a judgment now about what might happen in the future.”

The new boats, different than the single hulled vessels of the past, are built long, tall, and light to be sailed at incredible speeds.There’s been talk about safety problems with large catamarans for a couple years, and Team Origin principle Sir Keith Mills actually scrapped his plans of competing in 2011 out of fear that the boats were unsafe for his group, which in the past had included Simpson.

“Seeing what those boats were capable of – speeds of up to 40 knots – frightened the life out of me,” Mills admitted. “The class rules looked like they were dangerous boats to sail. At 40 knots, the control is minimal. Hit a big wave and that is it.”

After Team Oracle capsized amid similar conditions last October in San Francisco, Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena told the New York Times that it similar incidents were likely to happen because the boats were becoming too powerful. But Barclay doesn’t seem to assume much will change.

“As with high-performance sports, where athletes are pushing themselves in their craft to their limits, sometimes things go wrong,” Barclay concluded. “That’s the nature of what they do.”