OCEAN CITY - Family and friends of David C. McAuliffe wiped tears from their eyes to look through binoculars as part of the boat he captained floated to the surface of the ocean Sunday afternoon.
More than 30 people had gathered on the beach to watch the recovery of the 34-year-old Egg Harbor Township man’s vessel, hoping for answers after the boat and its sole passenger went missing Tuesday morning.
McAuliffe has been presumed dead, but it was not immediately clear whether his body was still in the boat. The Cape Hatteras was found upside down on the ocean floor, partially buried and filled with sand, preventing divers from getting inside.
After towing the vessel to Longport on Sunday night, salvage crews planned to raise it out of the water this morning and perform an inspection.
“We’re just waiting at this point,” McAuliffe’s father, David R. McAuliffe, said Sunday evening.
It took all day Sunday for divers to raise one end of the boat using inflatable flotation devices, and it was dark by the time they were able to start towing it. The original plan was to use a crane, but the seas were too rough to use it most of the day, complicating the retrieval.
Besides hoping to find the Sea Tow captain’s body in the wreck, authorities plan to analyze the 49-foot, 27-ton tow boat to determine what caused its rapid sinking near the Great Egg Harbor Inlet while en route from Atlantic City to Somers Point.
The boat was found about a mile off the coast of Ocean City’s north end, a short distance from where dredge equipment is set up to pump sand from the inlet to the beaches. The Coast Guard is investigating whether that equipment played any role in the accident.
Several boats from the Coast Guard, State Police and Northstar Marine Inc., which operates a Sea Tow franchise in Cape May County, were part of Sunday’s effort, which McAuliffe’s family arrived to watch about 10 a.m.
They stood and sat in a line, all looking intently at the activity in the distance, passing binoculars back and forth. They chatted to pass the time, and often hugged and consoled each other.
The weather was sunny and clear most of the day, but there were few other people on the newly widened strand at Surf Road. Some passers-by gathered on the wooden walkway over the dunes to watch the work, but they kept their distance from the family.
The first glimpse of the boat came about 1 p.m., when one end of its gray hull surfaced. The water there was only about 20 feet deep, so one end was above water while another part was buried in sand.
As the hull became visible, Lynsey McAuliffe, David’s wife, cried and shook in her beach chair. The two were married less than three years ago in a ceremony on the beach in Brigantine, said Lynsey’s mother, Susan Paul.
Paul said they met at a marina, and shortly afterward Lynsey told her that she had found the man of her dreams.
In fact, David was so handsome that Paul almost suspected he was too good to be true, but she ultimately found him to be humble, loving and having a “Godly character.”
“He was what every man wants to be,” she said.
She also said he was a wonderful role model for Lynsey’s 15-year-old daughter, Samantha, whom they were raising together.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better father figure,” Paul said.
To help the family, McAuliffe’s older sister, Keri Muli, said they set up a fundraising page on GiveForward.com called the David C. McAuliffe Memorial Fund.
“We just want to get her as much help as possible,” Muli said of Lynsey McAuliffe.
At one point, David R. McAuliffe said he was aggravated with Sea Tow’s handling of the situation so far. He said the company has not been in constant contact with Lynsey McAuliffe as they had promised, making it harder for her to handle.
He said the macabre housekeeping that remains, such as getting his son’s last paycheck and money owed for salvage work he did for the company, needs to be settled as quickly as possible.
“My concern is the recovery and disposition of my son’s body,” he said, “but you have a young widow here who needs to find closure.”
Sea Tow Chief Administrative Officer Kristen Frohnhoefer did not return a call Sunday for comment.
If McAuliffe is found dead, Sea Tow says it would be its first on-duty death in nearly 30 years of operation.
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