OYSTER BAY, N.Y. (AP) — A yacht full of fireworks watchers capsized off New York's Long Island on the Fourth of July, killing three children and sending 24 others into the Long Island Sound, where many were rescued by fellow boaters, police said Thursday.
The bodies of 12-year-old boy David Aurelino, and two girls, 11-year-old Harley Treanor and 8-year-old Victoria Gaines, were recovered from the boat's cabin after a long overnight search in the waters near Oyster Bay. The remaining people onboard were a mix of adults and children.
Nassau County Police Det. Lt. John Azzata said it wasn't clear what caused the accident, but it could have been the weather or overcrowding onboard. It's also possible the yacht was swamped by another vessel because the area was crowded with boaters watching the fireworks.
He said alcohol was not believed to be a factor.
The 34-foot Silverton yacht was made in 1984 but was "a very recent purchase," he said.
Azzata said the boat should have had a life jacket for each person on board. But authorities could not determine if the boat had 27 life jackets because the vessel remained under water. Police said it capsized and then drifted a bit before it sank in about 60 feet of water.
The first body was found shortly after the 911 call came in at 10:10 p.m. on Wednesday, and the two others were found later inside the yacht, said Nassau County Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lack. Many boaters in the area helped with the rescue effort.
He said the operation took a long time because "at night in an area like this, it is very dangerous.
"It was a lot of people in the water," Lack said. "Most people were taken aboard other crafts very quickly."
Police said those onboard were watching a legal fireworks display at Cove Neck Shore. The National Weather Service said a thunderstorm moved through the area of the boat accident at around 10:30 p.m., and winds never exceeded 10-15 mph.
A boater told Newsday he saw the yacht turn right and then tip over after it was hit by a wake. "It was like in slow motion," said Sammy Balasso of Oyster Bay. "All of a sudden, a lot of bodies were in the water."
His nephew, 15-year-old Frankie Barbone of Bayview, said the waves almost came up over the yacht.
Balasso said he put the spotlight of his 38-foot speedboat on the Silverton and then threw all the life jackets he had with him into the water. He said he rescued 20 people who were later taken to the shore in police boats.
"Everybody was panicking," Balasso said. "People were saying things like 'Why?'"