(AP) – FBI divers and New York police attempting to retrieve a capsized yacht that sank, killing three children, ran into difficulty securing the vessel in murky waters 60 feet below the surface of Long Island’s Oyster Bay on Tuesday. They planned to resume efforts to bring it to the surface on Wednesday.
Investigators want to retrieve the vessel, which sank July 4 following a fireworks display, to assist their probe into how it capsized. Police have said a variety of factors, including overcrowding – there were 10 children and 17 adults aboard the 34-foot Kandi Won – weather and possible mechanical malfunctions could have caused the accident.
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, Kevin Treanor – whose 11-year-old daughter, Harlie Treanor, was among those killed – insisted at a news conference Tuesday that overcrowding was not a cause of the accident. He said the vessel was equipped with the required number of life jackets for all 27 passengers.
The children who died were not required to be wearing life jackets because they were in the boat’s cabin, authorities said. Adults are not required to wear life jackets, 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.
Aureliano’s 12-year-old nephew, David Aureliano, was also killed. The third casualty was a friend of the Treanor and Aureliano families, Victoria Gaines, who would have turned 8 on July 6. A funeral for David Aureliano was held Monday and the two girls were buried on Tuesday.
Mercante said Treanor is “a very, very distraught and bereaved man right now. It’s a very, very terrible tragedy.”
The attorney, who said he is a former Navy captain and graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, disputed suggestions that overcrowding was a factor in the accident. “This is a 34-foot boat,” he said. “It’s not like it was an 18-foot boat with 27 people on one side. The people on the boat were all distributed evenly throughout the boat.” He added: “Sometimes weight helps stability.”
Detective Lt. John Azzata, commander of the Nassau County homicide squad, who is leading the investigation, said divers were attempting to secure the vessel with a network of straps that would be placed underneath the boat. Large inflatable air bags were then to be inflated, raising the boat to the surface, where it would then be placed on a barge and transported to a police department marine facility for further investigation.
He said examining the vessel is a key component to determining a possible cause for the capsizing. “It’s a slow tedious process and the safety of the divers is of the utmost importance,” Azzata said at a midafternoon briefing Tuesday. “If there is any evidentiary value to this boat we would like to know about it.”
Late in the day, authorities suspended the effort and said it would resume on Wednesday morning.