LARRY NEUMEISTER,Associated Press
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. (AP) — Authorities were working on plans Friday to raise a capsized yacht where three suburban New York City children died during a Fourth of July outing to watch fireworks and 24 other people were left scrambling for their lives.
The accident left more questions than answers in the search for a definitive cause. Investigators are counting on gaining knowledge from survivors and the boat itself once it is brought up from 60 feet below the surface of Long Island Sound.
James Mercante, lawyer for an insurance company who is representing the boat's owner, said it appeared that the boat might not get raised before Saturday. He said the expertise of the Coast Guard and the Navy was being tapped for the effort.
Mercante said authorities want to learn whatever they can from the boat.
"Thirty-four foot boats shouldn't roll over, with or without people on it," he said.
He said he'd like to know if something mechanical was responsible, "if something gave way."
Authorities said several possibilities might have combined to doom the vessel known as Candi 1 as it was being positioned so passengers could watch fireworks.
Nassau County Detective Lt. John Azzata said the cause remained under investigation but possibilities include the weather, overcrowding and a wake from another vessel. He said the area was busy with boaters watching the fireworks.
The boat's skipper, Sal Aureliano, has told TV's News12 Long Island that he saw two lightning bolts and then a wave suddenly hit the 34-foot boat off Oyster Bay, on the north shore of Long Island.
"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," said Aureliano, who didn't answer the door to The Associated Press.
Authorities said the children who died got trapped in the cabin.
Killed were Aureliano's nephew David Aureliano, 12, and two girls, 11-year-old Harley Treanor and 8-year-old Victoria Gaines. No serious injuries were reported by the 24 other adult-and-children passengers who were rescued from the water, mostly by fellow boaters.
The Silverton yacht was built in 1984 but purchased recently. The yacht company filed for bankruptcy in April, and no one was available to say what the maximum number aboard should be.
The boat's owner is Kevin Treanor, said Mercante, who was hired by an insurance company to represent him. Mercante said he had not spoken with Treanor but emphasized Treanor wasn't the yacht's operator when the accident occurred.
Police and the Coast Guard would not say how many of those aboard were adults and how many were children. Safety experts said most boats have a manufacturer's plate that lists capacity by number of adults and by total weight. So theoretically, a boat could safely handle more passengers if some were children.
Phil Cusumano, a Boston-based safety instructor and yacht captain with 35 years of experience, said there is no question the boat was badly overloaded. He said he would limit a vessel of that size to six adults. Other boating sites suggested a maximum of 15 passengers.
"Twenty-seven is just crazy," Cusumano said. "I wouldn't dream of doing that. I wouldn't do it at the dock, much less take it out on the water. It would tip over with the first turn."
Each Fourth of July, vessels crowd the Long Island Sound shoreline to watch public and private fireworks displays. When the shows end, the exodus can be the nautical equivalent of a highway traffic jam.
Scott Menzies, who said he positioned his 20-foot motor boat in the area to take in the celebration but did not see the accident, estimated there were at least 1,000 vessels on the water.
"It was pretty crazy," he said.
Associated Press writers Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y., and Tom Hays, Larry Neumeister and Colleen Long in New York and researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.