Parents of boating victim recall July 4

Victoria Gaines, one of the children who died

Victoria Gaines, one of the children who died when the Kandi Won capsized in Oyster Bay on July 4, 2012. On the right, the Kandi Won is towed to shore after being raised from the bottom of Oyster Bay on July 11, 2012. (Credit: Handout and Howard Schnapp)

Shaken and fighting back tears, the mother of the 7-year-old girl who died in the July Fourth boat tragedy on Oyster Bay recalled Friday how she believed the safest spot for her daughter that night was in the cabin.

It wound up being the wrong place.

"Victoria was in the cabin because we felt that was the safest place," Lisa Gaines told Matt Lauer in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

The Huntington girl was one of three children to die in a disaster that Nassau police are still investigating. The victims were found in the boat's cabin after it capsized.

Lisa Gaines recalled crying out in vain for her daughter.

"I was just screaming her name to see if she came up because I knew she was below us," she said. "I was screaming her name just to see if anyone would yell out that they had her."

Gaines said she and her 12-year-old son were "on the deck upstairs" on a bench behind the operator of the 34-foot Silverton Convertible cabin cruiser when "the boat started to lean and it didn't recover and then it just went over."

The 24 other people on the boat were dumped into the water.

Authorities are looking into whether overcrowding, wakes or mechanical failure were factors in the sinking. Asked how many were aboard, Lisa Gaines said passengers were "on the back, on the front, upstairs, in the cabin." She said she "did not realize" how many passengers were on the boat.

"I really didn't see all of them at one time to know exactly how many were on," she said.

Lisa Gaines -- who can't swim -- says her son, Ryan, 12, saved her life in those chaotic moments.

"I was going under and if it wasn't for him, I don't swim, so he grabbed me and said, 'I got you mom,' " she told Lauer.

The boy helped his mom get to a chair that was floating nearby, Lisa Gaines said.

In the "Today" interview, Victoria's father, Paul, who wasn't aboard the boat, said he got a call from rescuers that Lisa and his son had been saved -- but his daughter was missing.

"At that point I was frantically trying to find my children and trying to get to them," he said. "I was calling every hospital possible trying to search for my daughter."

He added: "I woke up the other morning and it just really hit me very hard -- that my daughter is no longer with us."

Meanwhile, James Mercante, the attorney for boat owner Kevin Treanor, said in an email that his client is "distraught over the pending criminal investigation" into a tragedy that "took everyone by surprise."

Treanor's daughter, Harlie, 11, died in the accident. Her cousin, David Aureliano, 12, of Kings Park, also died. Victoria was a family friend who, her mother said, was playing cards in the cabin.

Mercante previously said he does not believe the boat was overloaded.

With Bill Bleyer

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