One minute, they were lit up by a feast of fireworks; the next, they were sinking in pitch-black waters as their capsized cabin cruiser dragged three children to the bottom of Oyster Bay.
One person hung onto a chair in the water, some clung to the sinking hull and others swam toward converging vessels.
"It was so quick, in a matter of seconds it just went over, it went right over," said Joan Treanor, a survivor and the grandmother of Harlie Treanor, 11, who died along with her cousin, David Aureliano, 12, and another girl, Victoria Gaines, 8.
The 34-foot Silverton cabin cruiser was full of children among the 27 passengers. They had boarded after 7 p.m. to see a Fourth of July treat in the sky, Treanor said.
By 10 p.m., the fireworks were over and lightning flashed.
Like other boats, theirs was about to head home.
In front of it was one vessel and to the right another, when Sal Aureliano, the cabin cruiser's operator, said he felt a wake roll against his vessel.
Almost in slow motion, the vessel tipped. Every one of the passengers crashed into the harbor waters.
In the night, the screaming was like a beacon for other holiday boaters-turned-rescuers.
People in the water yelled to passing boaters that children were still in the sinking vessel's cabin, witnesses said. Some shouted "David" and "Victoria," boaters said they heard.
"They were just hysterical," said Joseph LaRue, who saw it all about 80 yards away on his friend's boat. "It was like a nightmare."
Sammy Galasso raked his speedboat's spotlight across the waters. Pell-mell, he threw every life jacket he had into the waters.
"Everybody was panicking," said Galasso, whose family pulled more than 15 survivors from the waters. "People were saying things like 'Why?' "
Those who hung onto the belly of the capsized boat were searching for loved ones, Galasso said: "I don't think they wanted to leave whoever they were looking for."
The search quickly expanded, with Coast Guard vessels, helicopters, Nassau, Suffolk and New York City police divers, Oyster Bay Town bay constables, Centre Island police and several fire departments and marine towers.
Joan Treanor and Candi Treanor, the aunt of Harley and David, had struggled to pull children out and away from the sinking craft. Now they struggle with their losses.
"It was just devastating," the aunt said Thursday from her Huntington Station home.
The story has been changed to correct the spelling of Sammy Galasso's name.