Divers enlist high-tech help in water taxi recovery mission
Second victim dies in hospital; Robotic sub used in search
Although not operating for business, a Seaport Taxi is used to retrace the course of a similar boat that capsized Saturday. (Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum / March 9, 2004)
In addition to the three passengers who are presumed dead, the harbor tragedy claimed its second confirmed death when a 34-year-old New Jersey woman died late Monday at Harbor Hospital.
"Definitely we can say where the bodies are not," Fire Department Chief William J. Goodwin said last night. "We just haven't found the people yet." Two survivors and one of the Naval reservists who rescued them assisted the search yesterday by better locating where high winds flipped a 36-foot pontoon boat on Saturday.
The accident plunged 25 people into the Patapsco River, trapping many inside the boat's canopy.
As divers crawled and clawed the channel's silt-covered bottom yesterday, Goodwin expressed sorrow for the victims of the city's first fatal water taxi accident and voiced his commitment to find the missing.
The first confirmed death was Joanne Pierce, 60, of Vineland, N.J., who was pulled from the water Saturday but died shortly afterward.
Her 34-year-old daughter, Lisa, died late Monday after 2 1/2 days in critical condition. An 8-year-old girl, Sara Bentrem from Harrisonburg, Va., remained in critical condition yesterday at University of Maryland Medical Center.
The missing include Sara's 6-year-old brother, Daniel Bentrem. The siblings were on an outing with their parents and one other sister, all of whom survived.
The others missing are Corinne J. Schillings, 26, of Homewood, Ill., and her soon-to-be fiance, Andrew M. Roccella, also 26, of Virginia. Roccella was planning to give Schillings an engagement ring, family members said.
Both sets of the couple's parents, who were visiting Baltimore, survived the accident.
"We don't try to get personal, but in this case ... we built some sort of closeness and attachment" to the families involved in the harbor tragedy, Goodwin said.
The victims' family ties and the young ages of the missing and injured have made the search an emotionally wrenching experience for divers braving zero visibility in 36-degree water in the grim hope of putting their hands on a body.
"We're doing this as recovery, but it's more for closure for the families," said firefighter Bernard "Bean" Muller, 46, a dive team member. "It's tough for anyone who's lost a family member."
The experience has been equally tough on survivors.
Greg Pettibon, 23, of Gaithersburg, moved to Maryland from Texas in late December and was visiting Baltimore for the first time on Saturday.
A rapidly moving thunderstorm struck the 2-ton Seaport Taxi shortly after it left its Fort McHenry dock. Fierce wind gusts flipped the boat as its captain attempted to steer it back to shore after receiving late-arriving storm warnings from the National Weather Service.
"It was very sudden, very violent," Pettibon said. "In terms of time for preparation, we had none."
When the boat "flipped," he said, "you couldn't see anything."
Being trapped inside was a confusing jumble of dark water, bodies, life preservers, seat cushions and chaos, he said.