KEY WEST, Florida (AP) — Two offshore powerboat racers died Wednesday after their catamaran went airborne at high speed and crashed, marring the opening of three days of racing at the Key West World Championship, officials said.

Big Thunder Marine — a 46-foot(14-meter) Skater catamaran with four 1,200 horsepower engines that competed in the Superboat Unlimited Class — came down so hard that its right front hull was severely damaged on the third lap of Wednesday’s race inside Key West Harbor, organizers said.

Superboat International President John Carbonell said he witnessed the crash, which occurred adjacent to a spectator area.

“He was probably going about 130 mph and the boat’s propellers were barely in the water,” Carbonell said. “The boat apparently caught some air and went bow (front) up; straight into the air, came down and went backwards.”

He identified the dead as Robert M. Morgan of Sunrise Beach, Missouri and Jeffrey Tillman of Kaiser, Missouri. They were piloting the boat as throttleman and driver respectively.  According to the Miami Herald, Morgan, the owner of the Big Thunder Motorsports Park and Marina Complex  on Lake of the Ozarks, won two Key West world titles in his career – in 1998 and  2001—and had previously survived a few close calls on the race course.

Carbonell said the force of the boat coming down was powerful and crushing.

Despite the accident and rescue efforts, the race later continued. But Carbonell said he stopped the race before the scheduled seventh lap due to another accident, which stretched medical and safety resources. Scott Roman and Ron Roman escaped injury after their Motley Crew boat overturned.

Carbonell said that the world championship will continue with scheduled races Friday and the finals Sunday.

Online: Key West World Championship,

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(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may  not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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