LONGPORT - Salvage crews raised the sunken Cape Hatteras out of the water on Monday afternoon and placed it on a barge in the Intracoastal Waterway, allowing Coast Guard investigators to start their probe into why the boat sank so quickly last Tuesday.

David C. McAuliffe, the captain, was not found on the boat Monday and remains missing, his employer Sea Tow Services Inc. said in a statement.

State Police in Atlantic City’s Marine Services Bureau office are leading the continuing search for the 34-year-old Egg Harbor Township man, police said. Friends of McAuliffe said on Monday they believe the experienced, federally licensed captain would have been wearing a life jacket while out on the water.

McAuliffe’s father, David R. McAuliffe, said the family was very disappointed that his son was not found onboard the vessel.

“We’ve accepted his untimely demise, but we would like to have some remains to process for a final disposition. That does not seem to come to us at this point,” he said.

The family will likely have a local memorial service for his son at some point in the near future, the 66-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident said, allowing the far-flung extended family to grieve together and start to get back some degree of normalcy.

The 49-foot Cape Hatteras sank in heavy seas Tuesday morning, just east of the Great Egg Harbor Inlet. After it was found Thursday, upside down and partially buried, crews spent most of the weekend working to free it. Once it was raised form the bottom of the sea, the boat was towed to Egg Harbor Township’s Seaview Harbor Marina late Sunday, and then taken to the waters behind Longport on Monday.

As it was hoisted from the water its pilothouse appeared crushed and its windows broken. The hull did not appear to be significantly damaged.

There seemed to be damage to the two propellers, both of which were partially bent. Once the boat was lifted onto the barge, investigators carefully photographed the propellers.

The Cape Hatteras will be towed to Avalon Marine Center off Old Avalon Boulevard in Avalon, an employee and McAuliffe’s father said.

Once there, investigators will likely start by looking for any signs of impact, said Miles Beam, a Raleigh, N.C., engineer who specializes in maritime accident investigations. If there is nothing obvious, then investigators would normally interview witnesses or other passengers. But with no one other than McAuliffe aboard the boat, Beam said investigators would look for any other way that water could have gotten aboard the boat.

“There are some things that can fail, and these can result in a sinking,” Beam said, including around the propeller shafts and exhaust systems. If the fittings were in place, then Beam said investigators would look for any cracks in the hull that could have developed in rough weather.

Workers began lifting the boat from the water early Monday morning, but work proceeded slowly in a cold, gray drizzle. The work attracted spectators, two and three at a time, who stood along Longport’s Atlantic Avenue seawall with binoculars and small cameras.

The onlookers included family and friends of McAuliffe, curious passers-by, and trades workers who have been repairing the borough’s expensive homes after Hurricane Sandy.

By 1:30 p.m., nearly 40 people had gathered along the bay between 17th and 19th avenues to watch the salvage operations roughly 100 yards away.

Cars drove by the scene at a slow pace, with drivers looking to see what had drawn so many people to the otherwise quiet town in late April.

Family members watched, alternately hugging one another, quietly talking and watching the crews through binoculars. They stayed Monday afternoon, long after the other observers left.

The hull first peeked above the water at around 11:40 a.m., buoyed by inflatable bags. Crews from Northstar marine attached cables to it and a crane began lifting it by 1 p.m.

The boat was out of the water by 1:30 p.m. The aluminum hull was a stained and streaked brownish-gray.

Sean Reilly, 46, stood on the rock seawall watching the crews lift the boat. A captain, he worked with McAuliffe’s wife, Lynsey. The day McAuliffe’s boat sank, he said, was terrible for boating. A gale warning had been issued, with 10-foot seas. But even the rough weather couldn’t answer his essential question: What happened?

“I wouldn’t want to be out in those conditions,” Reilly said. “But if anybody could handle it, he could.”

Staff Writer Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this report.

Contact Derek Harper:

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