Image: Survivors cling to capsized pontoon.
Jerry Neblett  /  U.S. Navy
Passengers cling to the hull of a capsized pontoon boat in Baltimore's Inner Harbor as a U.S. Navy boat approaches to assist in rescue operations, on Sunday.
updated 3/9/2004 2:06:38 PM ET 2004-03-09T19:06:38

A second person has died as a result of the capsizing of a water taxi in Baltimore Harbor, as recovery crews continued working to locate three people missing since the accident, officials said Tuesday.

The 36-foot pontoon boat overturned Saturday near Fort McHenry when a sudden thunderstorm struck the harbor with wind gusts of up to 55 mph, throwing all 25 people on board into the chilly water.

The second victim, a woman, died at Harbor Hospital, Fire Chief William Goodwin said. He refused to identify her.

A hospital spokeswoman confirmed the woman died Monday night but would not release any other information.

The boat, which had set out from Fort McHenry on a trip across the harbor to Fells Point, was equipped with life jackets but passengers are not required to wear them.

A 60-year-old woman, Joanne Pierce of Cumberland County, N.J., died after the accident Saturday and three people — a couple who planned to marry and a 6-year-old boy — disappeared.

Recovery crews map area
Searchers met Tuesday and made maps of the area, marking off sections of the harbor that they had already covered.

Divers had an easier time searching Tuesday with slightly warmer water temperatures than a day earlier. They also were working in shallower areas where visibility was greater.

They may have found the boat’s flat, canopy-type roof, Goodwin said. The searchers also found the vessel’s ladder and part of its railing Monday.

“We’re getting to an area where bigger pieces of debris are that would have fallen off as the boat capsized,” Goodwin said.

The boat had been towed to shore and was scheduled to be removed from the water Tuesday for an inspection at a boatyard.

The water taxi’s owner had radioed the captain, Francis O. Deppner, that a 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.

She said officials interviewed about 10 witnesses Monday, including the Navy reservists who helped rescue the survivors.

Besides investigating the response of the crew to word of the storm, the NTSB was checking the boat’s records, which showed no major accidents, Engleman-Conners said. Deppner’s license was valid and an initial inspection of the boat found its steering system appeared to be intact, she said.

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