OYSTER BAY, N.Y. - A yacht that capsized with 27 friends and family aboard while watching Independence Day fireworks was severely overcrowded and doomed to tip over, safety experts said Thursday as the skipper blamed the deadly tragedy on a wave that came out of the dark.
Three children died after becoming trapped Wednesday night in the cabin of the vessel off Long Island in New York.
Sal Aureliano, who was at the helm of the Candi I, told TV's News12 Long Island that he saw two lightning bolts and then a wave suddenly hit.
"The next thing I know, we're turning, and we just kept turning, and everybody was in the water. It was chaos," he said, his voice cracking.
Aureliano's nephew David Aureliano, 12, and two girls, 11-year-old Harley Treanor and 8-year-old Victoria Gaines, died. The 24 other passengers were rescued from the water and were not seriously hurt.
The cause of the accident was under investigation, but it could have been the weather, overcrowding, the wake from another vessel or a combination of factors, said Nassau County Detective Lt. John Azzata. The area was crowded with boaters watching the fireworks, he said.
Safety experts said most boats have a manufacturer's plate that lists capacity by number of adults and by total weight.
Phil Cusumano, a Boston-based safety instructor and yacht captain, said there was no question the boat was badly overloaded. He said he would limit a vessel of that size to six adults. Other boating sites suggested a maximum of 15 passengers.
"Twenty-seven is just crazy," Cusumano said. "I wouldn't dream of doing that. I wouldn't do it at the dock, much less take it out on the water. It would tip over with the first turn."
Though there was some rain around 10 p.m., conditions were in "no way bad enough" to capsize a large boat on their own, said David Waldo, an expert boater who was also on the water Wednesday night.
Waldo, executive director of the WaterFront Center, a non-profit sailing school, called the number of people aboard the yacht "alarming."
Associated Press writers Mary Esch in Albany, New York, and Tom Hays and Colleen Long in New York and researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.