OYSTER BAY, NY (PIX11)—The effort to recover the boat that capsized on the 4th of July, killing three children who were in the cabin, was delayed for yet another day after murky water slowed down divers' efforts to pull the vessel up. Investigators hope on Wednesday, however, to elevate the submerged boat, starting a process of getting clearer answers to the cause of the triple fatal tragedy. Those answers may prove different than the main theory considered so far.
Tuesday also saw the funerals of two of the three children who died on the water after a coastal fireworks display. Victoria Gaines, 7, would have turned 8 last Friday. On the day after the third victim, David Aureliano, 12, was laid to rest, Gaines and Harlie Treanor, 11, were buried.
"He's a very distraught and bereaved man right now," James Mercante said about Harlie's father, Kevin Treanor. Mercante is the attorney for Treanor, who owns the Kandy Won, the vessel that capsized and sank. "It's a terrible tragedy," Mercante said, "and coupled with what he sees on TV with investigators and FBI, that's disturbing as well."
He was referring to the effort to recover the vessel, which is being carried out by investigators from the FBI and the Nassau County Police Department, with help from members of the NYPD dive team as well.
Their efforts were thwarted by conditions beneath the surface, and by the simple difficulty of raising a waterlogged 34-foot boat from the sea floor 60 feet below the water line.
"The boat is shifting in the water," Detective Lt. John Azzata said at a newsconference in the marina in Theodore Roosevelt Park where the recovery effort is headquartered. "It's a slow, tedious process," Azzata said. "It's moving forward, but it's [doing so] very slowly."
Azzata said that two divers at a time plunge down below the boat, and are in the process of running long straps in a criss-cross pattern across the vessel. The straps will be attached to massive inflatables, which will lift the boat to the surface.
Investigators had hoped to have the boat out of the water by Tuesday evening, but the effort will have to wait, and Azzata said that's not necessarily a problem. "It would be more frustrating if we had people unaccounted for," Azzata said, adding that since the whereabouts of all 27 people on board, including the three deceased children, seven other children and 17 adults were known, it was necessary to take time to do a thorough investigation.
"We'd like to have this [evidence] as pristine as possible," Azzata said about why the recovery is being done so meticulously. Investigators have now interviewed almost all of the adults who'd been on board the Kandy Won as well as some of the private boaters who rescued them on Independence Day. Having the boat remain as close as possible to the condition it was in when it went under allows police to best proceed with the next phase of the case.
"We'd like to match the physical evidence [on the boat] to what they've described to us," Azzata said, referring to everybody interviewed. Boat owner Kevin Treanor's attorney said that he and his fellow attorneys representing the insurance company contracted by Treanor had also interviewed people on board.
Contrary to initial theories regarding the cause of the capsizing, attorney James Mercante said, "I don't believe overcrowding is an issue." He said that he is a former U.S. Navy captain and is a Merchant Marine Academy graduate, and that the federal government does not have a capacity limit on vessels longer than 20 feet. The Kandy Won is 34 feet and had 27 people on board. There are recommended guidelines for weight, and the boat may have not violated those.
Instead, Mercante said, the cause of the capsizing may have been something the skipper, Sal Aureliano, the uncle of one of the victims, was not aware of. For that reason, said Mercante, the recovery of the vessel is key.
"We'd like to know if something... may have failed below the water line" on the night of the crash, he said, adding that the vessel may have taken on water in its hull without anybody knowing.
Multiple boating experts have told PIX11 News similar information. "It may not be [the pilot's] fault," Jeff "Bird Dog" Bartels, a 20-year veteran yacht mechanic and owner of Bird Dog Marine said. "His boat probably took on water in the hull. It's common. Then when something [on the water] caused the boat to shift, it capsized."
Bartel said it could have been prevented with a water level alarm in the hull. "More expensive boats have them," he told PIX11 News. "This boat did not. They only cost about $100."
Bartel said he's working with Suffolk County legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) to require all boats in that county to have a water alarm. Stern is also drafting legislation requiring all boaters to take a boat safety course.