‘Lost a great leader;’ Wright-Patt based colonel, dead in suspected drowning identified

ANSTED, WEST VIRGINIA — An Air Force colonel stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base died while on a family vacation in West Virginia earlier this week in what’s being investigated as a suspected drowning, according to spokespeople for the base and New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

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Col. John Catoe, 46, a squadron commander of the 88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron was identified as the victim of the suspected drowning, a Wright-Patterson AFB spokesperson said in a media release Thursday.

The incident happened Monday afternoon at the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve near Ansted, West Virginia, located about 50 miles southeast of Charleston, West Virginia.

The incident is being investigated as a presumed drowning however Catoe’s death was still under investigation by a medical examiner, a spokesperson for the National Park confirmed to News Center 7.

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Catoe fell out of a boat on a Class 4 rapid called Stairsteps on the lower Gauley River. His body was later recovered and he was pronounced dead, the spokesperson said.

Catoe had been on a commercial river trip on the river with a West Virginia-based resort. The lower Gauley River was in use by resort companies that day instead of the upper Gauley River due to unsafe conditions on the upper portion of the river, the National Park spokesperson said.

Monday’s suspected drowning was the first death on the river this year in the National Park, the spokesperson said.

“Team Wright-Patt lost a great leader this week. John was a highly skilled professional who loved his Airmen. The collective heart of team Wright-Patt goes out to his wife Maggie and their children during this difficult time,” Col. Christopher Meeker, Air Base Wing and Installation Commander said in the emailed statement.

A memorial service has been planned for Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Wright-Patterson Club on Area A at the base.

We’ll continue to update this story as we learn more.

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