OYSTER BAY, LONG ISLAND, NY (PIX11)—A week after it capsized, killing three children, divers have finally been able to retrieve a sunken yacht off the sea floor, and get one step closer to figuring out what went so wrong.
The 34-foot vessel dubbed Kandi Won is now back in port, having been pulled up from 60 feet below the surface of Long Island Sound by expert salvagers from the FBI, the NYPD and the Nassau County Police Department. The boat, which was surrounded by six inflated airbags that lifted it up from the bottom, limped into a marina in Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay just before 5:30 Wednesday evening.
"It took three days," Nassau County Police Detective Vincent Garcia said after getting into port after having been at the scene of the submerged vessel all day, "But everything went according to plan."
A small flotilla, featuring an FBI recovery boat carrying six divers in two teams of three, had set out yet again Wednesday morning at 8:20. Boats from other law enforcement agencies joined the FBI boat on the way to the Kandi Won, two miles offshore.
It had drifted a few hundred feet from the location where three children met watery deaths the night of the 4th of July. Cousins David Aureliano, 12, and Harlie Treanor, 11, as well as family friend Victoria Gaines, 7, were trapped in the boat's cabin after it suddenly capsized on the way back to port after watching an over-the-water fireworks display. The deceased children had been among 27 people on board.
"I will not believe while i'm sitting here or at any time that overcrowding had anything to do with this casualty," James Mercante said at a newsconference on Tuesday, after having been to the scene where divers were working to bring the submerged vessel to the surface. Mercante is an attorney representing the owner of the boat, Kevin Treanor, whose daughter was among the three victims.
Mercante is adamant that having 17 adults and ten children on board was not the reason the boat capsized. Now that the Kandi Won is on land and on its way to the Nassau County Police Marine Unit in East Rockaway, investigators have the lengthy and detailed task of finding out if Mercante is right about overcapacity and about another aspect of the incident that Mercante mentioned.
"There was a lifejacket for everyone on board," he said, adding that his client Kevin Treanor had indicated that he had even more than 27 lifejackets on the boat. That assertion has yet to be proven, and so does whether or not the boat's pilot, Sal Aureliano, the uncle -- and pallbearer during the Monday funeral -- of victim David Aureliano, had a boat taking on water in the hull under the deck, and there was no way for him to know. Analyzing the boat at the marine facility will help determine that.
More than a few boat captains have told PIX11 News that it's not uncommon for boats to take on water in their hulls during normal operations. More expensive vessels have water level alarms in their hulls that alert the skipper of the need to bail out the water. Less expensive boats, like the Silverton that capsized, typically have no alarm.
It is possible, boating experts say, that the Kandi Won had a sizable amount of water in its hull that acted like a pendulum beneath the vessel, and when wakes of water formed around the boat when it and dozens of other watercraft were headed into port after the fireworks display last Wednesday, the pendulum swung too far, upending the boat.
If that were the case, overcrowding may have magnified the pendulum effect. It's possible that further training of the owner or the boat's pilot may have prompted them to decide not to carry as many passengers as they did.
That's part of the reason why local legislators are calling for mandatory boat safety training. It is widely available, but not required in New York State. "It hasn't been discussed in a meaningful way," Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Huntington) told PIX11 News, "So we have to ask how many tragedies do we need to see year after year until some level of government finally takes action?"
He has drafted legislation that will be put before the county legislature in September that would require boat safety training for boat operators. Another, similiar proposal is being pushed statewide. Victoria's Law, named after the youngest victim of the tragedy, Victoria Gaines, has been proposed by the girl's parents, and is expected to be considered for proposal to the state legislature by State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-5th District), according to the family's attorney, Michael Della.