Two More Water Taxi Victims Found

Passengers of a capsized water-taxi cling to the hull of the capsized boat in Baltimores Inner Harbor as a U.S. Navy boat approaches to assist in rescue operations Saturday, March 6, 2004 in Baltimore, Md.
AP/US Navy, Jerry Neblett
Divers Sunday recovered the bodies of two of the three passengers missing for more than a week since a water taxi overturned in a sudden gale in Baltimore Harbor.

The Seaport Taxi pontoon boat Lady D overturned March 6 near Fort McHenry when the area was struck by a sudden storm with wind gusting to 55 mph. Of the 25 people on board, one died after being pulled from the water, and a man, a woman and a 6-year-old boy could not be found.

Baltimore fire officials told The Sun the remains of Andrew M. Roccella, 26, of Vienna, Va., and Daniel Bentrem, 6, of Harrisonburg, Va., were found in about 60 feet of water, only a "couple of hundred feet" from where rescuers pulled the rest of the passengers from the Patapsco River.

Still missing is Corinne Schillings, 26, of Illinois and Washington, D.C. Roccella had intended to propose to her that weekend, family members said.

A sonar search has turned up an object that divers were expected to check Monday.

"I believe we will be successful in our third attempt," Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. said, "and then our job will be complete."

Goodwin said he hopes the recovery of the missing bodies "will allow the families to have their grieving time, their funerals," he said Sunday. "Hopefully, that's what we have achieved here today."

The water taxi's owner radioed the captain that the thunderstorm was approaching and he started for shore, said Ellen Engleman-Conners, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

"There was a report of communication between the owner-operator of the vessel and the vessel concerning the weather," she said.

The timing of warnings from the National Weather Service - whose advisory for boats to get off the water reportedly did not come until after the accident - is another focus of the investigation.

Navy reservists rushed to the scene after seeing the boat in trouble. The sailors described the horrific scene: survivors clinging to the overturned vessel in frigid water pounded by wind-driven rain, telling them more were trapped below.

"It was pretty hateful," Petty Officer Henry Zecher said. "I'm relieved that we were able to save as many lives as we were."

Two of the passengers recovered that day died. Joanne Pierce 60, of Vineland, N.J., was pronounced dead at the hospital. Her daughter, Lisa Pierce, 34, of Lyndhurst, N.J., died March 8.

The 36-foot pontoon boat, which was at full capacity, had just set off across the harbor from historic Fort McHenry on the way to the city's Fells Point when it overturned.

Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said city divers have never failed to find and recover a body.

"If we can assist the families by recovering their family members and returning them," he said, "we would like to bring closure to the families."

Fire Department recovery workers have been working regular shifts or volunteering their time, he said. "Their only obligation in being here is their own personal commitment. I can't commend them enough."

Mayor Martin O'Malley spent much of Sunday with recovery workers, the Sun reported. He was seen making the sign of the cross just minutes after the second body was recovered.