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Crew from tug that sank off Fire Island ID'd; autopsy set for captain, formerly of LI, police say

Donald Maloney, 60, the on-duty captain and the

Donald Maloney, 60, the on-duty captain and the one crew member not wearing an immersion suit, became separated from his crew in the water as the 1991 62-foot Sea Bear tugboat was sinking.

The captain who died when his tugboat sank Saturday a mile off Fire Island grew up on the waters off Long Island and knew the dangers of hauling equipment and barges in the Atlantic, his family said.

Donald Maloney, 60, of Peckville, Pennsylvania, was identified Sunday after the tugboat he was steering became submerged Saturday afternoon less than two miles south of Barrett Beach on Fire Island.

The Coast Guard Sunday identified the surviving crewmates as Lars Vetland, 43, of Staten Island; Jason Reimer, 38, of Leonardo, New Jersey; and Rainer Bendixen, 22, of Bay Head, New Jersey. They were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard about two hours later as they clung to life rings in 37-degree water near the sunken boat.

Maloney was the only crew member not wearing an immersion survival suit, designed to protect from hypothermia, when the 1991 62-foot tug, known as The Sea Bear, was overcome by water about 2 p.m. Saturday.

He was a Farmingville native and part of a family of tugboat captains, who was leaving a dredging project in Shinnecock Bay on Saturday with two other tugboats off Moriches and returning to New York Harbor at Bayonne, New Jersey.

Maloney's brother, Kevin Maloney, 58, of Sayville, said Donald knew the perils of the job and the risk of working in conditions that were present Saturday with choppy waters, rain and dense fog eliminating most visibility.

"At an early age, we knew that boats sunk and we knew how dangerous it was," Maloney said. "A boat can sink very quickly. With weather and conditions like yesterday with fog, it's a dangerous occupation and you have to be careful with the weather "

As the boat began to take on water Saturday, one of the crew had a cellphone in his survival suit and was able to call the Coast Guard's dispatch service.

Maloney became separated from the group and was found about 5 p.m. by another tugboat, the Captain Willie Landers, which took him to the Fire Island Coast Guard station, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death.

Maloney said he learned from detectives that the other crewmates were trying to hold onto his brother in the water before he became separated. He wondered if his brother may have died from hypothermia.

"They were so close to the shore, maybe they were trying to get it to the beach to keep from sinking," Maloney said. "He probably thought he could make it and didn't have time to put on his suit because he was concentrating on steering."

The other crew members told the Coast Guard that Maloney "panicked and jumped into the water without putting on his immersion suit," Coast Guard Petty Officer Sabrina Leberdesque said.

Coast Guard investigators have not determined what caused the boat to sink and were developing a plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to salvage the boat from the coast of Fire Island, said Peter Winters, a search and rescue planner at the Long Island Sound Sector in New Haven, Connecticut.

The Coast Guard used sonar to determine the boat's last known location to dispatch rescue crews, Winters said.

"We'd like to see everyone survive," Winters said. "We did the best we could in the cold waters."

Maloney and his two brothers followed their father's career as a tugboat captain. "Donnie" went on boats with his father, starting as a deckhand and learning the job until he became a captain, Kevin Maloney said.

The family often would take trips up and down the Hudson River. His father had to sell the boat during the oil embargo in the 1970s, prompting Donald Maloney to set out on his own.

Donald Maloney was married for seven years to Carolyn Maloney Badke, of Centereach, after they met in high school in Ronkonkoma. They had one daughter, Corinne, who still lives on Long Island.Maloney, who returned to the water on his tugboat Sunday, said he would take his brother's death as a lesson for safety procedures and younger crew mates.

"I'm going to try to take this situation and get all the facts to teach the younger fellas why we do the things we do with drills and making sure equipment is run properly," Maloney said. "We don't know why it took water on so quickly. He was very good at what he did."

With AP


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