Cops: Raising boat a 'tedious process'
Divers trying to lift the 34-foot cabin cruiser that sank on July Fourth, killing three children, were having difficulty with visibility 65 feet below the surface and currents were hampering their efforts, a police official said Tuesday.
Nassau police homicide Det. Lt. John Azzata said he did not have a timetable for the raising of the 34-boat, and it may not happen by the end of the day.
"Unfortunately the visibility underwater right now in the area . . . is not good, and it's a slow, tedious process," Azzata said. "The boat is still moving while they're down there, trying to work on it. . . . There's progress, but it's very slow."
An FBI dive team reached the wreck site in Oyster Bay Tuesday morning, preparing to raise the boat with the hope that the wreckage will help explain how the tragedy occurred. Investigators will check for structural damage or mechanical failures that might have contributed to the capsizing and they hope to determine the number of life jackets aboard.
The bottom is muddy, and movement created by the divers and the boat itself was making the task difficult, Azzata said Tuesday.
"We'd like to have the boat in as pristine condition as possible," Azzata said. "If God forbid there is a traumatic mechanical malfunction that caused this ship to sink we'd like to know that."
The salvage crew, which left from Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay and reached the site at about 9 a.m., plans to help raise the vessel by attaching deflated lift, or air, bladders to the boat, inflating them, and bringing the Silverton 34 Convertible to the surface.
Divers were in the process of criss-crossing straps under the boat to form a net to attach the bladders to, Azzata said.
The first team of divers entered the water a few minutes after 10 a.m. and returned to the surface about 11:30 a.m.
The plan to raise the boat was determined late Monday, after a salvage crew studied sonar mapping and video of the wreck site, about 60 feet under water.
Once raised to the surface, any remaining water would be pumped out, according to Nassau County police.
The boat would be towed to a location in Oyster Bay Town, lifted out of the water and driven by flatbed truck to the police Marine Bureau in East Rockaway.
The salvage boat that reached the site Tuesday morning was catamaran-style with a metal hull, about 30-feet long, and flying a red flag with a white slash, signifying diver down.
FBI personnel wearing blue T-shirts with yellow "FBI" lettering first worked at dropping multiple anchor lines, an effort to keep the boat as stationary as possible during the dive.
In addition to the work boat, two other FBI boats, three Nassau County police boats, two Oyster Bay constable boats and one 41-foot rescue boat from the Coast Guard patrolled the perimeter of the wreck site.
Nassau Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said Monday the FBI was chosen for the salvage because the agency has access to equipment that can raise the craft, while ensuring it is not damaged and no evidence is compromised.
"The FBI is in the best position to do this so that it is forensically preserved," he said, adding this plan won out over dragging the boat out with a hook.
Skrynecki said an FBI diving team from Quantico, Va., a forensic evidence team and three FBI vessels were in Oyster Bay Monday examining the site of the sinking off Lloyd Neck. Investigators dove to the wreck in more than 60 feet of water, taking video and conducting sonar mapping to determine the position of the cabin cruiser and to identify any obstructions to the salvage operation.
The boat, named Kandi Won, capsized late on July Fourth as it was returning from a fireworks display in Oyster Bay, spilling 24 of the 27 people onboard into the water. Sal Aureliano, a family member of one of the victims, said he was driving the boat when a wake struck it.
Azzata wouldn't confirm or deny that Aureliano was the one driving the boat at the time it went down. The three who died -- cousins David Aureliano, 12, of Kings Park, and Harlie Treanor, 11, of Huntington Station, as well as family friend Victoria Gaines, 7, of Huntington -- were trapped in the cabin, officials said.
"There are a myriad factors involved in the issue of the number of people allowed on the boat," Skrynecki said when asked if the boat was overcrowded.
The Coast Guard sets capacity limits for boats up to 20 feet.
Some manufacturers offer voluntary guidelines but there was no capacity placard on the Silverton, said maritime attorney James Mercante of the Manhattan firm Rubin, Fiorella & Friedman, the lawyer for boat owner Kevin Treanor, the father of Harlie Treanor.
Mercante said that even with 27 people on his client's 34-foot boat, "I don't think the boat was overcrowded. The people on the boat were dispersed and not on one side."
He said town and county officials should better manage the boat traffic to, during and after the fireworks show.
"What was overcrowded was a small, narrow body of water that has only one way in and one way out," Mercante said of Oyster Bay. "In part it's very shallow, only 9 to 11 feet, and shallow water creates waves just like at the beach when boat wakes hit shallow water. During the mass exodus of boats, many of the boats would have encountered that shallow area of water. The wakes of hundreds of boats could have created not only the large wave that was reported by witnesses, but multiple large waves."
Charles Dolan's family has presented the private fireworks display as part of its July Fourth waterfront party for more than 20 years at its Cove Neck property. It declined to comment through a spokesman. The Dolan family owns a controlling interest in Cablevision, which owns Newsday.
The town said it had three bay constable boats patrolling initially on the evening of July 4. Nassau police said it had two boats in the area.
Town spokesman James Moriarty said, "We have not given consideration yet to any changes in policy" pending the findings of the police investigation.
Skrynecki said that boats have traveled to the fireworks display for years without a problem on water, but any changes suggested by the investigation would be considered by the police.
Larry Weiss, former commander of the Oyster Bay Power Squadron boating safety group and the spokesman for the U.S. Power Squadrons on Long Island, said he has taken his boat to watch the fireworks for almost 20 years and has not heard of any other accidents in that time.
He said the town and county manage the boat traffic properly. "The issue is a disregard for rules, courtesy and safety" by boaters.
Coast Guard Capt. Joe Vojvodich, commander of Sector Long Island Sound, said if any findings from the investigation suggest changes in the permit process are needed, the agency will look at whether to incorporate them.
With several high-profile fatalities this summer, Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said he will introduce a bill next month that requires all boaters in the county to take a safety course.
Even though boating rules fall under state jurisdiction, he said, "where New York State fails to act, we can do so locally."