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«Lady D's survivors rely on faith, work As the NTSB readies its report, those who endured the 2004 water taxi sinking have found their own answers to ...»

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Known to physicians as stress cardiomyopathy, it mimics the symptoms of a heart attack by stunning part of the heart muscle. But patients who survive typically recover quickly, as Karen did, and Denny says that "we will always be indebted" to the Hopkins staff.

But while the foundation was Karen's idea, it might have been Denny's salvation.

Karen says her husband threw himself into the project, spending many hours developing a Web site (www.cjsfoundation.org) and establishing criteria for the awards.

"It was truly cathartic for us," Denny says.

The Roccellas have established a similar foreign study scholarship in Andrew's name at Purdue.

Liza Boffen-Yardanov, director of development for international programs at the Lafayette, Ind., university, said three scholarships have been awarded, with more to come in about two weeks.

The Schillingses say their foundation has given out seven $1,500 scholarships and five study awards. They take an active role in screening the recipients and say they are "amazed" by the quality of the applicants.

Now they look forward to the marriage of their daughter Denise, 31.

While the Bentrems are focused intensely on the spiritual side of their experience, the Schillingses have taken a strong interest in the public policy implications.

From their Illinois home, they have tried to follow the NTSB investigation and are intensely interested in the findings. They have written to the agency's acting chairman and to members of Congress to express their concerns about small-craft safety.

"Little Sarah might not have had the brain damage she had if she had a life jacket," Denny says.

But Homan, the former mate, says that in his case, wearing a life vest might have been fatal -trapping him under the boat while he was knocked out. On the brink of drowning, he was rescued by fellow passengers -- Puerto Rican National Guardsmen -- and brought back with CPR.

Homan, 57, says the experience left him with no fear of "dying again."

"I have to say it, it was painless. The pain was being brought back to life."

Water taxi accident What happened: On a March 6, 2004, trip from Fort McHenry to Fells Point, the Lady D water taxi overturned during a sudden squall. Twenty-three passengers and two crew members were thrown into the Baltimore harbor. Five passengers were killed.

Legal action: Federal lawsuits were filed on behalf of everyone on the boat except the captain against Living Classrooms Foundation, the nonprofit that operated the water taxi service. A confidential settlement was reached in October 2004. Insurance firms representing Living Classrooms filed a lawsuit Feb. 17, 2006, against the Coast Guard, alleging the boat was improperly certified.

Investigation: The National Transportation Safety Board has spent two years investigating the accident. In December 2004, the NTSB reported the Lady D was carrying 700 pounds of excess weight -- noting that the Coast Guard had used 1960s-era average population weights in setting capacity limits. NTSB simulation studies released in October showed that the water taxi was too unstable and heavy to withstand the wind and waves in the harbor.

What's next: On Tuesday, the NTSB is scheduled to consider the final report of its investigation into the accident. It is expected to cover such topics as the Coast Guard's certification procedures, the seaworthiness of the water taxi and the response of the captain to the weather conditions.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com



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