2 Mackinac boaters die in race

July 18, 2011 8:16:30 PM PDT
A captain and one crewmember died after their sailboat capsized in Lake Michigan during the Race to Mackinac. Six sailors were rescued.

The deaths are the first fatalities in the historic race from Chicago to the northern tip of Lake Michigan, which is in its 103rd year, www.cycracetomackinac.com/.

The sailboat "WingNuts" capsized during strong winds around midnight Monday between Charlevoix and Fox Island, Michigan. Six sailors were rescued. The bodies of the two others -- Suzanne Bickel, 41, and Skipper Mark Morley, 51, both of Saginaw, Mich. -- were recovered several hours later, around 9 a.m. Monday, by a dive team.

C.J. Cummings, 16, was one of two teens on board WingNuts. Chip Cummings, C.J.'s father, spoke with ABC7 News about the rescue. He said, "From what we learned, one of the crewmembers who was C.J's cousin, and his best friend, had gotten un-tethered and came and un-tether C.J. and was able to release him, so the two of them could swim out from under the boat and get back to the hull."

Stormy weather overnight led to accident, officials said.

"It is sad, but is a tough race. It is shocking, it's only two deaths in 100 years," said Paul Schneider, a seasoned sailor who docks at the Chicago Yacht Club.

Bickel and Morley were experienced sailors. The Chicago Yacht Club released a statement from Commodore Joseph Haas, "We express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the crew of WingNuts. The crew of this boat exemplified the spirit of the Chicago Mac that is steeped in tradition of family, friends and a passion for the water."

"It is an unfortunate thing that happens on the water, you've got to be extremely careful," Schneider said.

A Chicago man, Lee Purcell, 46, was also on WingNuts. His mother tells ABC7 that while he's shaken up, he's OK. She also said that Purcell's father, who had the same name, drowned in a Lake Michigan boating accident before her son was born.

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