OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – A yacht that capsized and sank off Long Island after a July Fourth outing to watch fireworks, killing three children, was lifted from the bottom of a bay Wednesday and towed to a marina for a preliminary inspection. Detectives hope a fuller inspection of the boat on shore will provide clues into the cause of the accident.
FBI divers and Nassau County police raised the 34-foot Kandi Won from about 60 feet below the surface of Oyster Bay, off the north shore of Long Island. The effort took two days as divers contended with strong currents and murky waters. They rigged the vessel with a network of straps and then inflated large airbags to bring it to the surface on Wednesday afternoon.
A small group of bystanders watched alongside news photographers as the vessel was towed about three miles to a marina near Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay. About a half dozen large airbags surrounded the yacht, which was towed in by a Nassau County Police Marine Unit vessel amid the whir of news helicopters overhead.
The boat was expected to be lifted out of the water Wednesday night or Thursday morning and be transported by trailer to a police department marine facility in East Rockaway for further inspection, Detective Vincent Garcia said. It was not clear how long that process may take.
Detective Lt. John Azzata, commander of the Nassau County homicide squad, who is leading the investigation, said authorities were trying to determine if the accident was caused by overcrowding — there were 10 children and 17 adults aboard the vessel when it capsized — or whether a mechanical malfunction, weather conditions or other factors could have been involved.
No criminal charges have been filed. Police said the morning after the accident that it did not appear the operator of the vessel was intoxicated.
James Mercante, an attorney for the boat's owner, has insisted that overcrowding was not a cause of the accident. He also said the vessel was equipped with the required number of lifejackets for all 27 passengers. The children who died were not required to be wearing lifejackets because they were in the boat's cabin, authorities said. Adults are not required to wear lifejackets, but all vessels must have one available for every passenger.
Sal Aureliano, who was at the helm of the vessel, has said he saw two lightning bolts and then a wave suddenly hit the boat. The National Weather Service said a thunderstorm moved through the area about 20 minutes after the first 911 call at 10:10 p.m., and winds never exceeded 10 to 15 mph.
Azzata has said inspection of the vessel is key to his investigation.
"If there is any evidentiary value to this boat we would like to know about it," he told reporters Tuesday.