Olympic gold-medal winning sailor Andrew Simpson has died after his catamaran capsized during a training session for the America's Cup off the coast of California. Simpson, 36, was sailing with the Swedish Artemis Racing team in San Francisco Bay when the yacht turned over and he became trapped underneath, his team said last night.
The sailor, affectionately known as "Bart", was one of 11 crew members aboard the 72ft vessel when it capsized at about 12.30pm local time. He was trapped underwater by the AC72 catamaran's platform for about 10 minutes, Artemis said, and doctors both 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 Artemis Racing 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 boat itself is under control, but it is certainly not the first of our concerns. We are focused on the people."That is what we are working with and on and we will give you more information when we are able to."
The cause of the accident is so far unclear. The accident is reported to have 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."
San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge told the Press Association that Simpson was taken to St Francis Yacht Club on the shore where paramedics performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, but was pronounced dead. She said another sailor suffered minor injuries.
Simpson, who lived in Sherborne, 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.
Among his team-mates was childhood friend and Olympic partner Iain Percy, who is Artemis' sailing team director and tactician. The team was training for this summer's America's Cup, which is due to run from July until September.
In a statement the America's Cup said: "The thoughts of everyone involved with the America's Cup 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."
A statement from Sir Ben Ainslie's Oracle team read: "Today is a sad day for all of us in the sailing community. Andrew Simpson was a great person, a terrific sailor, and a good friend to all of our team. Our thoughts are with his family and the entire Artemis team. He will be dearly missed."
Stephen Park, RYA Olympic manager, said: "Andrew was a fantastic sailor who got the best out of everyone he sailed with. He was much loved and will be sorely missed by everyone in our close knit team. Our thoughts today are with Andrew's family."
Olympic silver medallist windsurfer Nick Dempsey said via his Twitter account "Going to miss you Bart", while Luke Patience, who took silver in the men's 470 class at London 2012, said: "Devastated. Bart, you are a true inspiration." The British Sonar team, comprising John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, also took to the social network, posting: "Devastated by the news from Artemis racing... Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bart's family and team, a true sailing legend..."
Simon Shaw, sailing double world match racing champion, added: Today we lost a courageous sailor. A true friend from school, till now, my heart is with his family."
Sir Clive Woodward, British Olympic Association director of sport at London 2012, was another to pay tribute, tweeting: "Totally shocked to hear Olympic star Andrew 'Bart' Simpson died after Swedish America's cup catamaran capsizes - thoughts with his family.
The US Sailing Team also spoke of its shock and sadness at the news, saying: "A tremendously sad day for the sport of sailing. Our thoughts are with the family of Olympic Champion Andrew Simpson, and Artemis Racing."
Former America's Cup sailor Andy Green had known Simpson for many years. Green told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was questioning whether he wanted to continue sailing, but because his friend Iain Percy was at Artemis he went over there in February and started racing with them as a valuable asset. He will be sorely missed by them. It's particularly poignant for a British audience that this tragedy has happened because of his history in the Olympics, but I can only hope that Britain goes on to get involved in the Americas Cup and win it back, with this very firmly in mind."