Searchers Comb River for Missing Coach
Va. Rowing Instructor, 20, Fell Into the Potomac After Motorboat Stalled
By Leef Smith and Elaine Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 26, 2004; Page B01
John Steve Catilo, a rising senior at the University of Virginia and a former rower at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School, was eager to help the next generation of enthusiasts take to the water.
So he spent his summers coaching, working with young novices in the Potomac River, where they would learn to row as a team, moving their sleek boats across the river.
Catilo, 20, was working yesterday morning with a boat of nine beginners when the motorboat he was piloting alongside their shell stalled.
"He stood up to restart it. He lost his balance and ended up in the river," said Lt. Alfred Durham of the D.C. Harbor Patrol's special operations division.
Horrified, students took their boat back to shore to call police, and a passing kayaker tried to aid Catilo by throwing a flotation device. But he never surfaced.
Rescue teams from Alexandria, the District -- which has jurisdiction over the river -- the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Park Police launched a search for Catilo, who was not wearing a life vest when he fell into the water about 500 yards south of the Daingerfield Island Sailing Marina near Reagan National Airport.
By late morning, seven divers from the D.C. Harbor Patrol had entered the water to search while rescuers combed the shoreline and a Park Police helicopter scanned from the air, all "working feverishly," Durham said, to find the missing man.
They could not.
Officials called off the search at 2:45 p.m., citing an approaching storm that caused the currents to shift and made it difficult for divers to continue. A recovery effort will resume this morning.
"I don't think it looks good that when we go out there tomorrow we'll find him alive," Durham said.
Catilo's motorboat carried a cushion that served as a flotation device, but no life vests were available for him or the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students he was overseeing, Durham said. Catilo was not required to wear a life vest as he coached. All students and coaches involved in the program are required to be able to swim, school officials said.
Durham said his department will conduct an investigation to determine why oars were the only flotation devices available to the rowers on their scull.
"An oar is not an acceptable flotation device by Coast Guard boating safety regulations," Durham said.
Two weeks ago, the D.C. Council passed legislation that requires children age 13 and younger to wear life vests aboard a vessel unless they are inside a cabin, Durham said. The law applies to any watercraft on D.C. waters, he said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
A D.C. fire and rescue boat nears the dock at Daingerfield Island during the search for Catilo, who was coaching novice rowers when he fell into the river. Divers, who called off their search because of an approaching storm, will resume it this morning.
(Bt Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)
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