Seventeen years ago, Patrick McDermott (Olivia Newton-John’s on-again-off-again partner) mysteriously vanished from a fishing charter off the coast of California.
In 2005, McDermott boarded a fishing boat named Freedom, never to be heard from again. Newton-John, who had been dating the Korean-born cameraman sporadically for nine years prior to his disappearance, remained haunted by it until the day she passed. Despite numerous outlets claiming to have spotted McDermott everywhere from Mexico to South America, none of these reports have been substantiated, with most people widely accepting he has been lost at sea. Still, questions remain, with a new podcast reigniting global interest in the bizarre events of that night.
Below, everything you need to know about the couple and Patrick’s baffling vanishing at sea.
Who was Patrick McDermott?
After splitting from her first husband, Olivia Newton-John became involved in her most high-profile relationship. Hollywood cameraman and lighting technician Patrick McDermott caught her eye in 1996, with the pair going on to share a near-decade long relationship
While appearing on Australian talk show, This Is Your Life in 2004, Patrick shared an incredibly sweet moment with Olivia when he was seen praising her. Calling the actress an “incredible” and “special” human being, and told her that if people were “a little bit like [you], the world would be a better place”.
Unfortunately just one year after this segment went to air, Patrick would be reported missing. Newton-John confirmed they were no longer together at the time of his disappearance, with his ex-wife, Yvette Nipar filing the report. The two became close as a result of the bizarre situation, with Nipar posting a tribute to Newton-John upon learning of her passing.
What happened with Patrick McDermott’s disappearance?
In June 2005, McDermott boarded the ship Freedom on an overnight trip. He was a frequent client for these kinds of trips and booked it solo, not knowing any of the other 22 passengers onboard.
Fellow fishermen aboard the vessel say they observed McDermott paying his food bill just 30 minutes before they’d arrived at their final destination, leaving his passport and personal effects onboard before disembarking. While no official head count was taken, several passengers claim to have seen him disembarking the boat, but strangely, his car was found parked near the marina where he had left it.
McDermott’s absence apparently went unnoticed until around a month later in July, when he failed to show up to a family event. He was reported missing on July 11 by his ex-wife, but the story didn’t gain widespread press coverage until another month had passed.
About a year after that in September 2006, the Coast Guard Investigative Service closed the case, claiming it “did not find any evidence of criminal action, suicide, accident or hoax in the disappearance of McDermott.” A separate United States Coast Guard marine safety investigation was conducted on the fishing vessel itself, which was also closed two years later. Both investigations concluded that McDermott was likely lost at sea.
Given the bizarre circumstances and the fact that his body was never recovered, it was heavily speculated that he might have faked his own disappearance in an attempt to avoid paying child support. His only child, a son named Chase whom he shared with his ex-wife, was in need of $11,000 worth of child support money. Sources claim McDermott filed for bankruptcy not long before his disappearance, allegedly owing $30,000.
His body has never been recovered and there have been several alleged sightings of him with a new girlfriend over the years in Mexico.
In the years since, many have claimed sightings of McDermott in Mexico, where he was rumoured to be living with a new girlfriend.
US entertainment show Extra hired Hollywood PI John J Nazarian, to investigate the matter, after witnesses claimed they saw him with a German woman. Then, another PI Philip Klein was hired by Dateline after another alleged sighting went down in South America.
Klein later released a book titled Lost at Sea: The Hunt for Patrick McDermott in 2012, where he documented his hunt for the cameraman. McDermott’s ex-wife Nipar slammed its release, asking Amazon to stop promoting it and dubbing Klein a “serial liar [who] is simply looking to be famous at the expense of an unfortunate tragedy in our lives”.
She firmly maintains McDermott is dead and has asked for peace and privacy on the matter. “In a nutshell, Mr Klein has promised us, the family, ‘proof of life’ for years now, yet has never provided anything whatsoever,” she wrote in a letter to to Jeff Bezos, pleading with him to stop the book’s promotion.
Newton-John, who passed earlier this year, had previously spoken about her lack of peace in McDermott’s disappearance, but maintained she needed to find a way to carry on.
“I don’t think I will ever really be at peace with it,” Newton-John admitted to Women’s Weekly in 2009. “I think there will always be a question mark.”
Nine years later, the actress spoke with 60 Minutes to address her unshakeable sadness over the situation.
“He was lost at sea, and nobody really knows what happened,” she said.
“It’s human to wonder. Because whenever you go through difficult times, there’s always those concerns. Those are the things in life you have to accept and let go. Of course questions always come up and that’s human. But, you know, I live on.”
In 2017, New Idea claimed to have exclusive photographic evidence of McDermott alive and well in Mexico, which showed a man matching his description. This theory came crashing down in 2018, when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation published a story of a man from Canada, who identified himself and his wife as the subject of the photo in question, chalking the ordeal up to a case of mistaken identity.
Most recently, a podcast titled Pseudocide (available on Spotify), is investigating his disappearance with never-before-heard interviews and a deep dive into the speculation that still surrounds it.