On Wednesday, July 26th, an overloaded 24-foot motorboat overturned in the Cape Cod Canal. The 12 victims were rescued by a nearby vessel and the Coast Guard and taken to a local hospital. One passenger, Harry O’Connor, age eight, later died in the hospital.
Sail-training vessel Disco Volante, a Hanse 400 (see below), rescued nine of the passengers from the water and was the first vessel on the scene. As Disco Volante approached the capsized boat under clear afternoon skies, winds of 15 knots, and a peak tide generating aggressive chop, Captain Marty Van Breems could see the black hull rocking in the waves. The survivors were in the water alongside, struggling to stay together.
“They had drifted about 10 or 15 feet away by the time we got there,” Van Breems told Ocean Navigator, “but they were holding hands and staying together, they had life jackets on. They were doing the right thing. They were crying and panicked, and one boy who had asthma was hyperventilating, they seemed to be possibly in shock and they were extremely upset.”
The crew of Disco Volante trailed a line and nine of the passenger’s grabbed hold and were pulled safely onboard and wrapped in blankets. By that time Van Breems learned from the survivor’s screams that there was a child trapped underneath the boat. Two of the survivors, a man and the women, refused to leave the water.
The Coast Guard received the mayday call just after 4:30 pm, radioed in by Disco Volante co-captain while Van Breems and the students pulled survivors out of the water by their wrists.
According to Cape Cod News, witnesses from a nearby watchtower had already reported the boat to the Coast Guard as overcrowded and struggling against the waves, and at the time of Disco Volante’s mayday multiple agencies were en route to the scene, as well as a local diver in a private boat. The first police boat arrived within four minutes of Disco Volante’s mayday call.
Van Breems still thought he could save the trapped child, but the congestion of rescue boats crowding in on the scene made any action on his part impossible. The police severed the line Van Breems had used to rescue the passengers so the police could more easily reach the capsized vessel.
“It was chaos,” Van Breems said, and he informed the police that he was taking the survivors to Mass Maritime where ambulances were waiting. “I thought they [the police] would get him [O’Connor] right out but they didn’t do anything…I think they tried, they looked, but they weren’t able to find him… What I would have done is put a line on it and rolled the boat over.” A rescue boat did try unsuccessfully to right the stricken vessel using a line.
More than 23 minutes had elapsed since the vessel capsized before Michael Marqulis, 56, a local diver who had responded to the mayday call finally pulled O’Connor out. Marqulis, told the Boston Herald, “I dove in, it was dark underneath, but I spotted his life vest. He was lodged up in the bow section, and he was unresponsive. So I grabbed him around the neck and pulled him out and handed him off to the harbormasters, who carried him onto one of their boats while doing CPR on him.”
“Its something that you wish you had dealt with differently,” Van Breems said, “because I have little kids, and that that little boy is dead is just a terrible tragedy.” Van Breems, the crew, and the students of Disco Volante were praised by authorities for their part in rescuing the victims.