British woman drowns after yacht capsizes in storm

Paul Whitehouse: Still missing off the coast of Mexico. Picture: SWNS
Paul Whitehouse: Still missing off the coast of Mexico. Picture: SWNS
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THE body of a British woman who went missing while sailing on a yacht off the coast of Mexico has been found, according to state prosecutors.

The Foreign Office yesterday confirmed one Briton had died after a search operation was launched earlier this week for couple Paul Whitehouse and Simone Wood in the aftermath of Hurricane Odile.

The pair, both aged in their 40s and from London and Wolverhampton, are thought to have been living on their yacht, Tobasco II, in La Paz for a year.

Mr Whitehouse is still missing. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We can confirm the death of a British national, reported missing along with another British national earlier this week off the coast of Mexico.
The Embassy is working with the local authorities and consular staff are providing assistance to both families at this very difficult time.”

Hurricane Odile left a trail of destruction when it hit the Baja California Peninsula last Sunday.

Three other people have been confirmed dead following the storm – two Korean citizens and a German man who reportedly died from a heart attack.

Mexican authorities have deployed more than 8,000 army, navy and federal police personnel to prevent looting in the area.

Simon Barlow, a friend of Mr Whitehouse, said those close to him are “massively worried, really concerned with the situation over in Mexico”.

Mr Barlow said: “We are all hoping that they are going to be found and it’s just communications that’s not letting us find that information out.

“We’re waiting and anticipating, you just can’t put it into words, you just can’t go over there to help.”

The couple’s 70ft boat – which was also their home – was one of 25 which capsized in the storm. Local sailors reported hearing “frightening transmissions” and “shouts of terror” on their radios as boats in the resort’s marina were battered by the hurricane.

Kevin Schank and Tyler Rowland, who are friends of the couple, described the chaos caused by the hurricane on their blog “More Hands on Deck HQ”.

They wrote: “The night of September 15, 2014. Hurricane Odile hit the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, with a heart wrenching blast of 108-knot winds (124mph). The eye of the storm was said to hit La Paz around midnight and lasting throughout the entire night and into the next day.

“As the wind and rain already starting to howl a few hours before Odile hit, people were trying to protect their sailboats, homes and belongings by battening down the hatches, securing and tying everything off as best as possible. When the wind rose above 70 knots (80.5mph) there was nothing they could do but hold on to their bootstraps and pray. The radio was filled with frightening transmissions of their beloved friends with shouts of terror.”

Mr Whitehouse’s brother Jon explained on his Facebook page that the couple had decided to try to ride out the storm on Tobasco II.

He said once the storm had passed, the boat had been searched by Navy divers but neither of them were found.

Mr Whitehouse, a former boat engineer, and Ms Wood, who worked in IT, left London for California to pursue their dream of running a diving school from their yacht.