Police divers recover body of missing boater

Police divers Monday recovered the body of a Pomfret woman who was on board a 50-feet boat that sank Sunday afternoon just north of Fishers Island.

Mary Patenaude, 67, was found inside the cabin of Priceless, according to Detective Cmdr. Lt. John W. Varone of the Groton Town Police Department.

Patenaude owned The Pomfret Spirit Shoppe & Wine Shed. A woman who answered the phone at the Patenaude residence said the family was too distraught to talk and was making funeral arrangements. Mary Patenaude's husband, David I. Patenaude, a former Pomfret first selectman, owns Priceless.

It is believed that Mary Patenaude went back inside the boat after it hit Pulpit Rock about 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The nine other passengers and a dog were rescued by private boaters.

Varone said Patenaude was found around 7:30 a.m. Monday by divers who are trained in high-risk dives.

Her body was taken to Coast Guard Station New London, where she was then transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. An autopsy for Patenaude will be conducted during the next couple of days, an official at the state medical examiner's office said.

Varone said two police divers entered the vessel, while a third police diver remained outside in the event that the two needed to be rescued. An Old Mystic firefighter diver was also on hand.

Varone said one of the divers removed a hatch so the pair could swim through half a suite and then into a full suite, where Patenaude was found.

The boat was tilted upright in almost 50 feet of water. He said it was dark with about two feet of visibility.

Priceless had left its home port at the Westerly Yacht Club with 10 passengers for a cruise in Fishers Island Sound. The boat hit Pulpit Rock near Flat Hammock sand bar about 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The search was suspended late Sunday night.

Old Mystic Fire Chief Ken Richards Jr. said search operations resumed at 5 a.m. Monday. He said rescue vessels from the Mystic Fire Department and Groton Town police and a total of six divers were at the scene.

Richards said the boat's canopy had collapsed, and before divers could enter they had to determine whether it would be safe.

An 87-foot Coast Guard cutter and helicopter helped with the search, and a 45-foot response safety boat kept boaters at bay and protected the divers, said Petty Officer Jeff Murphy at Coast Guard Station New London.

Officials at the Westerly Yacht Club could not be reached to comment. A woman who answered the phone said the commodore had instructed members not to comment.

Capt. Jeff Dziedzic, owner and operator of TowBoatUS Mystic, said private vessels had rescued the passengers when two of his boats arrived.

The boat's passengers and a dog were forced into the water as the Priceless sank within minutes, according to authorities.

Dziedzic said one of his captains, who is also a certified diver, went into the water in an attempt to locate the vessel. The diver told him the currents were rough and that he could see air bubbles coming from the boat, meaning that air pockets were filling with water.

Dziedzic said his company responds to about four incidents a year in that area. He said while charts clearly mark rocks in the area, people still accidentally strike them.

Lt. Jeff Janaro, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said New York State Police are in charge of the accident investigation because it happened in New York state waters. A public information officer at Troop L in New York could not be reached to comment.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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