- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

Severe weather forced authorities to call off the search for an Alexandria high school rowing coach who fell from his boat into the Potomac River yesterday during a practice session with students.

A search-and-rescue operation for John S. Catilo began shortly before 9 a.m. after he fell into the Potomac near the Daingerfield Island sailing marina, Alexandria Fire Department spokeswoman Jane Malik said.

Mr. Catilo, 20, was volunteering as a coach for the Alexandria Crew Boosters’ summer rowing program for beginners, Miss Malik said.

While trying to restart the outboard motor of his small chase boat — used to move alongside the sculls to coach the rowers — Mr. Catilo lost his balance and fell into the water, said Lt. Alfred Durham of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Harbor Patrol.

More than 50 teenagers in six sculls saw Mr. Catilo fall into the water.

“A kayaker saw Mr. Catilo [fall], took a flotation device and threw it to him,” Lt. Durham said. “However, he never resurfaced to retrieve it.”

The daylong search of the river, about one mile south of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, was suspended as afternoon storms approached. Divers were ordered to surface and boats carrying dogs capable of detecting human scent in the water were ordered ashore.

Cadaver dogs and diver teams will assist today in the search, Lt. Durham said.

“Hopefully, we can get out here and recover him,” he said. “If not we’ll have to wait until he resurfaces.”

Mr. Catilo, a senior at the University of Virginia and a 2001 graduate of T.C. Williams, has eight years experience as a rower or coach, said Barbara Hunter, spokeswoman for Alexandria schools.

The students on the water yesterday — in grades eight through 10 — were taken back to the boat house and received grief counseling, Miss Hunter said.

The search included police and fire units from Alexandria and the District, U.S. Park Police and the Coast Guard.

“These are some dangerous waters,” said Lt. Durham, adding that Mr. Catilo was not wearing a flotation device. While the surface of the river was smooth, the waters are known for swift currents, undertows and submerged obstacles.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service officials said they have gone on 26 rescue operations on the Potomac so far this year, including the trecherous stretch at Great Falls where rock climbers and kayakers often run into trouble.

Sixteen persons have been rescued this year on the river by the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services team.

At least two of the rescue operations this year were for overturned sculls in the Potomac.

The missing coach is the second recent hardship for the T.C. Williams crew community.

Schuyler Hamilton Jones, a 16-year-old junior who was a member of the rowing team, was killed Sept. 13 in a fight at Market Square outside Alexandria City Hall.

Patrick Casey, 17, a student at Bishop Ireton High School, and Brian Adem, 16, a student at West Potomac High School, were sentenced to juvenile detention followed by probation for their roles in the killing. Another 17-year-old Bishop Ireton student was ordered held for an indefinite time in a juvenile facility.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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