Five people died when a water taxi capsized in a sudden fierce gust of wind near Fort McHenry in Baltimore 13 years ago today.
The deaths aboard the now-defunct Seaport Taxi — which closed following the March 6, 2004 incident — remain the only fatalities on a water taxi in Baltimore.
Two crew members and 23 passengers were aboard when the 36-foot pontoon boat named the “Lady D” flipped, sending them into 44-degree harbor waters about 4 p.m. on a Saturday. Nearby Naval reservists on a training exercise and firefighters assigned to the city’s fire boat were both within view of the water taxi, and were able to save most of the passengers. Ten reservists — some of them without wetsuits on — went into the water to rescue passengers, U.S. Naval Petty Officer Edward Mendez told The Sun at the time.
A search for the victims, who ranged in age from 6 to 60 years old, lasted 10 days and required 35 dives and the help of nearly 80 Fire Department personnel, The Sun reported.
One diver, Bernard “Bean” Muller, nearly died himself trying to recover one of the victims’ bodies, The Sun reported.
The then-46-year-old, 24-year Fire Department veteran was “helmet diving,” with an oxygen line connected to a tank stored on a boat. The line became snagged as Muller ascended with a body, causing his suit to inflate, and the weight of his helmet flipped him upside down about 20 feet underwater.
The inflated suit pressed the collar of the helmet into his neck and cut off his breathing, and he had to be resuscitated by a pair of emergency divers, who jumped in to rescue him.
He survived, and returned to work the next day.
The current water taxi operator, Harbor Boating, was founded by Ed Kane in the 1970s and is now the sole water taxi service in the Inner Harbor. Under Armour founder Kevin Plank purchased the company last summer, then owned by Mike McDaniels, with plans to add new boats, longer hours and more stops, including several at Plank’s planned $5.5 billion waterfront development in Port Covington.