GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Patriot Stories

January 7, 2009

What took so long? Coast Guard didn't send help to Patriot for nearly 2 1/2 hours

Coast Guard Station Gloucester, on its own, was not allowed early Saturday to launch a search for a missing fishing boat.

Instead, the Coast Guard command in Boston decided not to even begin searching for the Patriot until more than two hours after Station Gloucester was informed that its two-man crew had taken it fishing, and that communication between the boat's co-owners — the captain and his pregnant wife, who was onshore in Gloucester — had ominously ceased, except for the remote radio signal from a fire alarm.

By that time, the Patriot had gone down, with two Gloucester fishermen, Capt. Matteo Russo and his father-in-law, John Orlando, aboard.

It was the fire signal to a private alarm company that, at 1:17 Saturday morning, triggered the start of due diligence by the Gloucester Fire Department. Engine 4 with a crew of five, headed by Gaetano LeGrande, a fire captain who happens to have a commercial fishing background, was dispatched to the waterfront and in 20 minutes reported back to the central station that the Patriot was not in port.

Dispatcher Clint Carroll, who was on Engine 4, said that, within minutes, a worried Josephine Russo, who with her husband Matteo had purchased the 11-year-old, steel-hulled, stern trawler early last year, called the Fire Department.

She had already spoken to Coast Guard Station Gloucester, noting that cell phone calls to her husband Matteo on the Patriot were defaulting to voice mail, and that Matteo's brother Sal, a commercial fisherman too, had been unable to contact Matteo. With Josie's father, Orlando, working the Patriot as mate, Matteo Russo had left Friday with plans to fish Middle Bank overnight and into Saturday.

The Coast Guard's decision to begin search-and-rescue would not come until 3:52 a.m., more than two hours after Josie Russo had told Station Gloucester she was convinced that her inability to reach her husband meant something bad had happened.

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