Search efforts for 3 enter second week

Divers trying to identify items detected on sonar

observers offer prayers

March 14, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

While firefighters searched unsuccessfully in the Patapsco River yesterday for three passengers of the capsized Seaport Taxi, residents of Locust Point went to the scene to offer prayers and support as the recovery effort entered its second week.

Divers braced against bitterly cold water near 30 degrees and a whipping breeze to make two attempts to identify items detected on sonar equipment early in the day, said Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright.

They were unable to recognize them, and one diver was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center after encountering trouble before surfacing, he said. The firefighter, who was not identified, remained at the hospital last night, Cartwright added.

Plans to raise the canopy of the water taxi, which overturned in a storm burst March 6, were postponed because several vessels had to pass through the shipping channel yesterday morning, Cartwright said.

Residents bring flowers

As firefighters worked during the day, Fort McHenry National Monument visitors and Locust Point residents stopped by the shoreline, some bringing flowers.

Before 8 a.m., a woman in a dark coat and red scarf settled in with binoculars on a picnic bench by the water.

"I've been here every day," said Jeanne Bell of Fort Street, a secretary for the Baltimore Police Department. "It's really sad. I have so many other things I could be doing, but the families - my heart really does go out to those families."

Bell said she arrives after work and sometimes prays, as she knows a lot of other people are. "You really hope someone's listening so they can bring them home," she said.

The Lady D water taxi was just leaving its Fort McHenry dock when a rapidly moving thunderstorm caused it to overturn, despite the captain's efforts to pilot the 2-ton pontoon boat to shore. Rescuers from a Naval Reserve Center and the city's fireboat unit were able to save 22 of the 25 people on board.

Seaport Taxi remained closed yesterday, and any decision to restart service is a "day-by-day" decision, said Tracey Weinberg of the Living Classrooms Foundation, which owns the water taxi service.

The three missing passengers are Daniel Bentrem, 6, of Harrisonburg, Va.; and a Northern Virginia couple, Corinne J. Schillings and Andrew M. Roccella, both 26.

Sarah Bentrem, 8, Daniel Bentrem's sister, remained in critical condition last night at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Confirmed dead are Joanne Pierce, 60, of Vineland, N.J., who died after being pulled from the water March 6, and her daughter, Lisa Pierce, 34, of Lyndhurst, N.J., who died Monday.

Divers `holding up well'

Cartwright said eight divers were deployed yesterday and about 25 people were helping with the search. At day's end, the teams of firefighters returned, looking tired and grim.

They are "holding up well" and they will renew their efforts this morning, Cartwright said, using images from sonar and robotic devices to try to locate the bodies.

"As you pursue something with your hopes high and the effort turns out to be fruitless," he said, "of course there's some frustration."

Diver Sam Burrell's fiancee, Gloria Watson, and son, Samuel, went yesterday to offer support but got a scare when a Zodiac boat sped to shore about 12:45 p.m., carrying the diver who got into trouble before surfacing.

"My heart just stopped beating," Watson said when she saw the boat head for shore.

Watson said Burrell describes being under the water, even in the protective suits, as being like "coming out of a shower and walking out in the cold, with no clothes on."

"It's a dangerous job," said Watson, a public schools instructional assistant, as she peered across the water. "It makes me really, really appreciate what he does. I'll be glad when it's over."

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