The sky over Long Island Sound, ignited moments earlier by an extravagant Fourth of July fireworks display, was suddenly bright again: a signal flare illuminated a marine disaster unfolding among the boats leaving the show.
Rescue boats followed the light to the scene, fueled by radio reports that at least two dozen people were in the water and some children could not be found. Mitch Kramer, a trained diver, strapped on a mask and fins, stuck an air hose in his mouth and plunged in among the dozens of boats that had responded.
More divers arrived, but it was too late to save the three victims: a 12-year-old boy, his 11-year-old cousin and an 8-year-old girl whose family had come along for the floating spectacle. Paramedics tried to revive the first girl they pulled from the cabin, the 11-year-old, but could not; the others were dead when their bodies were recovered from the sunken boat.
Neither the police nor the Coast Guard could say with certainty Thursday just what had caused the boat to capsize shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday. Much of the speculation centered on the number of passengers: 27 on a 34-foot-long boat designed to hold far fewer. But the Nassau County Police Department said it had not ruled out the spotty weather or the thick traffic — hundreds of boats had turned out to watch the annual display— as factors.
Inexperience did not seem to explain the accident: Salvatore Aureliano, who said he had been piloting the boat when it turned over, comes from a family of boaters.
The boat, a Silverton convertible built in 1984 and named the Candy 1, belonged to Aureliano’s brother-in-law, Kevin M. Treanor, according to registration records. Treanor was aboard with his family, but Aureliano said he was at the helm because he was more experienced. “There was nothing wrong with the boat,” he said, adding that it was “a wave that got us. I couldn’t right the boat.”
Adult passengers from the boat had tried frantically to get to the trapped children before the fire department divers arrived, said Asher, who was at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, where triage was set up. Nine people were treated there, including two fathers and a mother of victims, he said.
As Kramer hit the water, he said, a rainstorm swept in, pushing the half-submerged boat around and making it impossible to squeeze through a hatch or yank open the cabin door.
Just after the first girl was found, the boat, which had been drifting eastward, sank to the bottom, 60 feet beneath the surface. By then, rescuers knew there was little hope that the others would survive. Their bodies were later recovered by divers.
“The worst day of my life,” Aureliano told News 12. “Three kids,” he said, slowly shaking his head.