OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – A sunken yacht on which three children died during an Independence Day fireworks outing was tethered on Friday to prevent it from drifting away but must be raised from the water before investigators can determine what caused it to capsize.
There were 10 children and 17 adults aboard the Kandi Won when it tipped over and sank after the July Fourth nighttime fireworks show, trapping three children in the main cabin. Boating experts said the vessel was too full and was bound to capsize. That, combined with weather and a strong wave, might have doomed the yacht as it was steering toward land amid a throng of holiday boaters on Long Island Sound.
On Friday, a line was tied from police boats to the 34-foot-long sunken vessel so it wouldn't drift. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard may help raise the boat, which is submerged 60 feet below the surface.
The yacht's owner, Kevin Treanor, who's related to some of the victims, bought it in April 2011, boating records show. There was no answer to calls at his home Friday.
An insurance company lawyer who's representing him, James Mercante, said he'd like to know if something mechanical was responsible, "if something gave way."
"Thirty-four-foot boats shouldn't roll over, with or without people on it," he said.
Mercante lambasted media reports that there were not enough life jackets on board when the vessel sank, noting that the three children who died were in the cabin, where no life vests were required by law.
"There were enough life jackets on board for every person on board and more," he said. "There were plenty of life jackets on board. The life jackets had nothing to do with this incident."
Nassau County Detective Lt. John Azzata said the cause remained under investigation but possibilities include the weather, overcrowding and a wake from another vessel. He said the area was busy with boaters watching the fireworks.
Boater Scott Menzies, who said he positioned his 20-foot motor boat in the area to take in the celebration but didn't see the accident, said conditions on the water were calm during the fireworks and afterward. The National Weather Service said a thunderstorm moved through the area about 20 minutes after the first 911 call and winds never exceeded 10 to 15 mph.
The boat's skipper, Sal Aureliano, told TV's News12 Long Island on Thursday that he saw two lightning bolts and then a wave suddenly hit the yacht off Oyster Bay, on the north shore of Long Island.
"It turned the boat around," he said, his voice cracking. "It just turned the boat. I didn't see it. It was dark. I didn't see it."
Killed were Aureliano's nephew David Aureliano, 12, and two girls, Harley Treanor, 11, and Victoria Gaines, 8. No serious injuries were reported by the 24 passengers who were rescued from the water, mostly by fellow boaters.
The Silverton yacht was built in 1984. The manufacturer has since gone out of business. Safety experts said most boats have manufacturer's plates that list capacity by number of adults and by total weight. So, theoretically, a boat could safely handle more passengers if some were children.
Margaret Podlich, the president of the Boat Owners Association of the U.S., the largest recreational boating organization in the country, called the tragedy a "teachable moment."
"It would be very shortsighted of any of us boaters not to try to learn something from this," she said.
Scott Croft, a spokesman for the boating organization, said there are often mishaps and mistakes during the crowded Fourth of July holiday on the water.
"When fireworks end, our switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree," with problems from boaters, he said.
Each Fourth of July, vessels crowd the Long Island Sound shoreline to watch public and private fireworks displays. When the shows end, the exodus can be the nautical equivalent of a highway traffic jam.
On a small beach in Oyster Bay next to a boat launch ramp on Friday, area resident Maria Segura sat on a chair on the sand, waiting for the return of her 23-year-old son on the family's 17-foot boat.
Segura called the July Fourth tragedy a "freak stupid accident" that occurred despite strict enforcement of boating rules in the area by local authorities. As she spoke, a local police boat floated toward the boat launch area.
Segura said her family's boat can seat seven people but her husband won't let more than six people on it at once.
"The life jackets are in," she said. "The flares are in, and we're not overloaded."
She said she understood the dangers on July Fourth when after the fireworks boats are "racing to get their boats out" of the water. She also said she stayed on land to watch the aerial display.