GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Patriot Stories

January 23, 2009

'You could look through the windows'

Photo crew's 'sobering' exam finds Patriot undamaged on its side

The mystery surrounding the sinking of the Patriot and the death of its two crew members only deepened yesterday.

The first photographic examination of the wreck, involving four hours of video and stills taken by Bill Lee working from his fishing boat, revealed no apparent clues.

"It was very, very sobering," said Lee, a commercial fisherman and noted amateur underwater photographer. He was working for the families of Capt. Matteo Russo, 36, and his father-in-law and mate John Orlando, 59, who died in the sinking three weeks ago today.

The Coast Guard has been investigating the sinking and looking into its own response, which lagged by more than two hours after Josie Russo, co-owner of the vessel with her late husband, deduced from aberrant indicators — a remote fire alarm signal, no cell phone responses, a boat gone strangely silent — that something was amiss.

The fishing team, her husband and father, left port around 6 p.m. on Jan. 2; at 12:30 a.m. Jan. 3, the VMS, or vessel monitoring system, sounded a "ping" from the Patriot for the last time.

"There is absolutely no apparent sign of fire, there is no apparent sign of a strike, and there is no apparent damage to the boat," said Lee, who was accompanied on the research expedition by Stephen Ouellette, lead attorney for the Russo and Orlando families, along with representatives of the Coast Guard and the insurance company that wrote the policy on the Patriot.

"You could look through the windows," Lee added. "The propeller and rudder were in place, and both trawl doors were on the boat."

"We know a lot more (about what didn't happen)," Ouellette said. "A boat is in a constant battle with gravity, and sometimes gravity wins."

This boat had a steel hull, was only 11 years old and had been modernized and refitted with an array of modern technology after the Russos acquired it about a year ago.

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