SAN DIEGO — On Feb.1, the U.S. Attorneys Ari D. Fitzwater and Patrick Bumatay published a press release, indicating the owners of the vessel Commander had pled guilty in federal court to conspiring to destroy the boat in order to fraudulently collect an insurance payout. San Diego Union Tribune reporter Kristina Davis broke the story that afternoon.
Among other information, the release provided, "According to their plea agreement, on October 11, 2016, boat owners (Christopher) Switzer and (Mark) Gillette headed out to sea on the Commander from its homeport in Mission Bay and headed toward Long Beach. The two had planned to intentionally sink the Commander and submit a claim to their insurance company."
The report continued, stating the two admitted to having scuttled the boat by way of destroying PVC plumbing and opening up a bulkhead between compartments. As the vessel took on water, they radioed for assistance and U.S. Coast Guard personnel launched a helicopter to their location off Dana Point.
A Dana Harbor Patrol rescue boat came to their aid, finding the two aboard the partially submerged Commander.
The following day the still floating hulk was re-located, and a salvage crew raised the vessel, then towed it to San Diego Bay dry docks. It was during that effort divers discovered the nature of the flooding. Closing thru-hull valves, and using air bags and pumps, enabled them to de-water the vessel.
Switzer and Gillette acknowledged they had subjected rescuers and themselves to "risk of death or serious injury." As part of the plea agreement, they are required to reimburse the Coast Guard $15,000. In addition they face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine, under charges of "Conspiracy to Destroy Vessels."
The two ultimately decided not to file a claim with the insurers, after evidence made it clear they had likely scuttled the vessel.
According to FB poster Peter Giacalone and others, the Commander, was built by Ditmar Donaldson and launched in 1958 as the Catalina Special (aka Cat Special). It was purchased and run under that name by long-time Sportfishing Association President Bob Fletcher, who later built and launched a new vessel he named Cat Special. This later "Cat Special" is now the Eclipse.
The original Catalina Special was renamedNew Red Raider, Producer, Predator, Dolphin II, and finally, Commander.
Torey Purser reported he had seen the boat currently tied to the dock next to the Shelter Island Boat Yard.
Many in the industry were appalled by the news, expressing both regret for the fleet having lost an iconic vessel, and anger that her owners had attempted to sink her.
Several commenters feared the incident would cast the entire fleet in a bad light. It appeared many were deeply suspicious of any vessel loss where no one but the boat's owner was aboard — especially if rescue was eminently available at the time.