(OYSTER BAY, N.Y.) — A yacht that capsized on the Fourth of July, tossing 27 passengers into the waters off New York’s Long Island and killed three children, was hit by a wave, the boat’s captain said Thursday.
“We’re coming home and a wave got us and it turned the boat around,” Sal Aureliano, the boat’s operator, whose nephew was one of the children killed, said Thursday. “It just turned the boat and everyone was in the water and chaos.”
The Candi I, a 34-foot Silverton vessel, had been out on the water so that family and friends could watch a fireworks display.
The boat capsized a little after 10 p.m. near Oyster Bay as a result of weather and a wake from another vessel on the water, said Nassau County Police Inspector Kenneth Lack.
“It was a lot of people in the water,” Lack said. “It was a tremendous response by multiple agencies. Most of the people were taken into other crafts very quickly.”
Three children in the boat’s cabin — David Aureliano, 12, and two girls, Harley Treanor, 11, and Victoria Gaines, 8 — were killed.
The first victim was found in the water shortly after the distress call came in. Divers located the two others in the vessel hours after it sank, Lack said early Thursday morning.
Danielle Barbone tried to save as many people as she could, including the mother of one of the girls killed.
“We just started plucking them out like ants. Just one, two, three — whoever we could get on,” she told ABC News affiliate WABC. “There was a grandmother. She was floating. She couldn’t swim. There was no life vests on the boat.”
She said one child’s mother was screaming her daughter’s name.
“It was a very bad night for everybody,” Barbone said.
Richard Valicenti, owner and president of Bridge Marine Sales & Marina, said Thursday that a 34-foot boat with 27 people aboard was “overpopulated.”
Valicenti said that large wakes could be formed when a large number of boats left the bay at the same time.
“That means you’ve got waves rolling in from every direction,” said Valicenti, who has spent more than 40 years on Oyster Bay. “It’s hard to maneuver your boat if you’re not prepared. It can rock pretty severely.”
Authorities said Thursday that until they could recover the yacht, which is now under 60 feet of water, they could not determine the cause of the accident. WABC said the boat was owned by Kevin Treanor, who was aboard the yacht at the time, according to his lawyer. His relationship to Harley Treanor was not known.
“The boat could have sunk for many reasons,” said Nassau County Detective Lt. John Azzata at a news conference Thursday. “It could be overcrowding. It could be mechanical malfunction, It could be a wake created by another boat.”
Two 25-foot rescue boat crews from Coast Guard Station Eaton’s Neck, along with rescue teams from the Nassau County Police Department, Oyster Bay Constable, Tow Boat U.S., and several local fire departments aided in the rescue efforts, according to a statement from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Witnesses say they saw adults and children in the water and did what they could to help, including throwing life jackets and life preservers in the water.
Investigators said they don’t believe alcohol played a role in the accident, but they did say there were not enough life vests for everyone onboard the boat.
According to state law, children 12 and younger must wear life jackets when they are on the deck but not when they are inside the cabin.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Brian Stelter, CNN
Brooke Baldwin, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Diamond, CNN