Badly damaged propellers on the Cape Hatteras may help explain why the boat sank so quickly, the wife of its missing captain and others said Tuesday.

“The propellers were shredded,” said Lynsey McAuliffe, the wife of missing Capt. David C. McAuliffe. “If the propellers were shredded, that means that he lost steering capability. If they took one rogue wave, then they could have sunk.”

“He hit something,” McAuliffe, 35, of Egg Harbor Township, added. “We just don’t know what.”

The Coast Guard will consider a wide range of possible reasons for the sinking as investigators explore the boat, Petty Officer Nick Ameen said, “but clearly that (propellers) will be one of the aspects of the ongoing investigation.”

The 49-foot vessel was lifted from the water Monday afternoon, six days after it sank in heavy seas just east of the Great Egg Harbor Inlet.

The Coast Guard has said McAuliffe never radioed mayday, and did not respond to radio and cellphone calls once the sinking triggered the boat’s emergency beacon.

David C. McAuliffe, 34, was a federally licensed captain with 10 years of experience with Sea Tow Services Inc., and is apparently the company’s first captain to die on duty in its nearly 30-year history. He and his wife have a 15-year-old daughter.

The boat was found upside down Thursday, partially buried by sand. When it was lifted Monday, the pilothouse was smashed but there was no obvious damage to the hull.

Once it was on a barge, investigators appeared to carefully look at and photograph the two propellers, which were bent and twisted.

Other local captains also noticed the propeller damage Tuesday as the boat sat on a barge, temporarily at anchor in the Ship Channel off Somers Point.

“They’re a little bit mangled and bent over,” said John Bodin, operations manager for Shamrock Marine Towing, who assisted in lifting the Cape Hatteras. “From the vantage point I had, they either hit bottom or hit something hard to bend them over.”

If the rapidly spinning propellers hit bottom, Bodin explained, it would have an effect similar to hitting solid concrete. The carefully balanced propellers would be quickly thrown out of alignment, losing their ability to push the boat through the water and leaving the boat at the mercy of the waves.

“It looks like the propellers hit something pretty good,” added John Ryan, another captain with Shamrock, who passed near the boat Tuesday en route to the company’s Somers Point dock.

Ryan declined to speculate about what the propellers might have hit, but said the port side appeared to have worse damage.

“It kind of looks like it’s more than just hitting sand,” Ryan said. “I know that sand can be pretty hard.”

The boat sank in the general vicinity of pipes and other equipment being used in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ongoing $15.6 million Ocean City beach-replenishment project. Some captains have asked if McAuliffe could have run into some of that gear. The operation includes metal pipes that are submerged and can be moved in order to transfer sand from offshore onto the island’s beaches. The Army Corps has said it would await the result of the Coast Guard’s investigation.

Other captains have said the boat sank near an area where shoals have made passage through the Great Egg Harbor Inlet much more treacherous since Hurricane Sandy. The boat sank in 10-foot seas, with the tide most of the way out, possibly magnifying the effect.

Coast Guard spokesman Ameen said the barge is scheduled to leave Somers Point for the Avalon Marine Center today or Thursday. That marina, at the end of Old Avalon Road in Avalon, was filled Tuesday with boats in varying states of readiness for the summer boating season.

Service Manager Rich Hollinger said the Cape Hatteras would likely be placed in a hangar on the property. There, investigators from the Coast Guard’s Philadelphia Marine Safety Office would be able to scrutinize the boat and attempt to reconstruct its final minutes.

While preparations for the formal investigation continues, the search continued for the missing captain. State Police said Tuesday night that there were no updates.

McAuliffe had been due to be paid Friday, said his mother-in-law, Marilyn Paul. After the company did not deliver the check, Paul said, the family sent a person Tuesday to Tide Runner Marine in Brigantine.

There, Paul said, McAuliffe’s paycheck was collected.

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