Search Called Off for Rowing Coach
By David Cho and Lila Arzua
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page C01
Search teams yesterday ended the recovery effort for the body of John Steve Catilo, a University of Virginia student who fell into the Potomac River off a small boat near an Alexandria dock and never surfaced.
Citing murky waters and a powerful undertow, Lt. Alfred Durham of the D.C. Harbor Patrol's special operations division said about 4 p.m. that the body was "unrecoverable" unless it surfaces on its own, which could take up to 10 days.
"We've exhausted every means available, everything from using air support to divers to search-and-rescue dogs and dragging the river," Durham said.
"His body was probably relocated from where he fell in," he added.
Catilo, 20, a former rower at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, was teaching novices how to row a nine-person shell Friday morning when the six-foot aluminum motorboat he was piloting alongside stalled.
As he stood up to restart the engine, he lost his balance and fell into the river.
The students, some as young as 13 and on the water for only their second day, rowed to shore to call police, Durham said.
A nearby kayaker threw a flotation device where Catilo went down, but he never came up to grab it.
Catilo was not wearing a life vest, nor did he have one on board, as required by law, Durham said. None of the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students he was overseeing as part of a summer boosters program had life vests either, he said.
Hope ran out early yesterday that the enthusiastic crew coach and rising university senior would be found alive, as search teams began referring to a recovery effort rather than a rescue.
Catilo's brother Paolo, 22, wearing a hooded burgundy sweat shirt, sat on some rocks yesterday by the windy waterfront near where the sibling known as John Steve went down. With his head covered, he stared at the turbulent Potomac, waiting for news from dive teams. Every few minutes, waves of grief washed over him, and friends sitting next to him would put their arms around him.
Search teams from several localities were involved, including Alexandria, the District -- which has jurisdiction over the river -- and Fairfax County, which used a highly sophisticated sonar device that was purchased recently. The same technology was used to locate victims of a water taxi that capsized in March in the Baltimore harbor. Authorities also used dogs trained to sniff cadavers through the water.
Four divers spent much of the afternoon searching the area where Catilo's body was thought to be. But the water was so cloudy that they were working nearly blind.
"Everything is touch and feel," Durham said. "You can't see anything down there."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Scott Morgan, an Alexandria rescue squad member, takes Gamble McGowan and search dog Tucker, from Southern Maryland, out to help search the Potomac.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)