Authorities are investigating what caused a 34-foot yacht to capsize and sink off Bayville, killing three children and sending two dozen others overboard during Fourth of July celebrations Wednesday night.
Investigators are exploring whether overcrowding, an equipment malfunction or the weather might have played a role. They plan to raise the Silverton boat from the bottom of the Long Island Sound, where it’s under nearly 70 feet of water.
“We are currently researching the cause,” Det. Lt. John Azzata, head of the Nassau County police Homicide Squad, told reporters Thursday morning.
The victims were identified as David Aurelino, 12, Harley Treanor, 11, and 8-year-old Victoria Gaines, all Suffolk County residents.
Nassau Marine Bureau divers recovered two of the bodies and Atlantic Steamer Volunteer Fire Department divers recovered the third. At least two of the bodies were reportedly found inside of the yacht cabin.
They were not wearing life jackets, Azzata said, noting that children are only required to wear them outside the cabin. Only some of the 24 survivors—mostly family, some friends, including adults and additional children—were wearing life jackets, he added.
New York State law requires that boaters have enough life jackets for everyone on board and the capacity not exceed the manufacturer-set limits. Azzata said the capacity of the vessel and the number of life jackets on board was not immediately clear.
Sal Aurelino, David’s uncle, told News12 Long Island that he was taking the Candi One home when he saw two lightning bolts, and “a wave got us.”
“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.”
“The next thing I know, we’re turning, and we just kept turning, and everybody was in the water. It was chaos,” Aurelino said.
He and another person were at the helm of the recently purchased vessel, which was made in 1984. Authorities ruled out boating while intoxicated.
The National Weather Service reported that a thunderstorm did move through the area at the time of the incident, but that winds never exceeded 15 miles per hour.
A 911 caller reported the incident shortly after 10 p.m. The boat first capsized in Cold Spring Harbor between Centre Island and Lloyd Neck, and then drifted nearly a mile into the Long Island Sound, where it sank.
NYPD, Suffolk and Nassau police divers responded along with Oyster Bay town bay constables, local fire departments and two rescue boat crews from the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Eaton’s Neck.
Good Samaritans in nearby recreational boats rescued some of the people thrown overboard and brought them to shore. The survivors were taken to area hospitals, where they were treated and released.
A family friend of one of the victims who asked not to be named visited nearby Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay after his wife broke the news to their daughter that she had lost a classmate and friend in Treanor.
“It is a family’s worst nightmare,” said Jim Oliva, a family friend from Cold Spring Harbor who made a statement outside the home of Sal Aurelino. “The entire family is really heartbroken.”
-With Associated Press, Jackie Salo and Alyssa Melillo