A tugboat crew member died and three others were rescued after their vessel sank in the frigid Atlantic Ocean off Fire Island Saturday afternoon, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Coast Guard officials said they found the survivors "clinging together" in 36-degree water at 3:54 p.m.

A fishing boat recovered the fourth man's body at 5:10 p.m., said Master Chief Chad Wendt, who leads the Fire Island Coast Guard station.

"The survivors were all in their immersion suits, and that's what saved their lives," Wendt said.

The 65-foot commercial tugboat, called Sea Bear, sank about a mile off Fire Island Pines. The Coast Guard will investigate the cause, said Lt. Martin Betts, spokesman for the Coast Guard's Long Island Sound sector.

One tugboat crew member died and three others were rescued after the boat sank off Fire Island, Coast Guard officials said. Photo Credit: Newsday

Coast Guard officials said they received a cellphone call from one of the crew members at about 2:30 p.m. alerting them that the tugboat was in trouble.

"Apparently, they were taking on water pretty quickly," Betts said. Officials quickly lost communication with the man, Wendt said.

The call set off an intensive search involving a Coast Guard motor lifeboat from Fire Island, two rescue boats from Shinnecock Bay and a helicopter from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Two commercial fishing boats also helped in the search, Wendt said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Poor visibility complicated the effort. The tugboat had sunk by the time rescuers found the survivors, and debris was already washing up on the beach, Wendt said.

"I'm very proud of these guys for saving three lives," he said of the rescuers.

The survivors were treated for hypothermia, Wendt said.

The immersion suit of one crew member was filling with water as he waited for rescue, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Chris Crociata, coxswain of the motor lifeboat that found the survivors.

"He was about to give up, and he heard the engines of the vessel . . . and it gave him a little hope to hold on a little bit longer," Crociata said.

The men were huddled around two life rings, waving their arms and screaming, when the lifeboat appeared minutes later, he said.

The crew members were interviewed by Suffolk County police and Coast Guard investigators Saturday night. Coast Guard officials declined to immediately identify them, pending notification of their families.

Sea Bear was traveling from Hampton Bays to New York City after completing a dredging project, Coast Guard Petty Officer Morgan Gallapis said.

The Wisconsin-based company that lists Sea Bear among its vessels did not respond to requests for comment.