The parents of 7-year-old Victoria Gaines, who died just days shy of eighth birthday, spoke to Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger just a few hours after they appeared on NBC's "Today" show.
"Horrifying nightmare that I'm waiting to wake up from," mom Lisa Gaines said. "Horrifying. Unreal. Numb."
The Fourth of July tragedy near Oyster Bay claimed the lives of Victoria, 12-year-old David Aureliano and his 11-year-old cousin Harlie Treanor. All three kids were in the cabin of the vessel when it capsized.
Lisa and Paul Gaines say they are working with authorities to improve boating safety with something they call Victoria's Law, to ensure their daughter didn't die in vain.
"This never should've happened and should never happen again," Paul Gaines said before breaking down. "That's it. I can't. I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry."
When asked if he thought Victoria could help save lives, he responded, "Absolutely. Absolutely she can. She wants it that way."
The family says if they can save even one life, then they would've done their daughter proud.
Earlier, Lisa Gaines told "Today" that her daughter was inside the cabin because she believed that was the safest place.
"Victoria was in the cabin because we felt it was the safest place," said Gaines, whose 12-year-old son, Ryan, also went on the outing to watch a fireworks display. "She was playing cards with Harlie, and Ryan and I were on the deck on a bench behind the operator of the boat."
She said Victoria and David were the only passengers she saw wearing life jackets. She did not know whether the boat had lifejackets for everyone.
There were 17 adults and 10 children on board the 34-foot vessel.
Asked if she thought the boat was overcrowded, Gaines said she didn't know.
"I really didn't see all of them at one time. I didn't know exactly how many were on," she said.
Authorities said they are looking at whether overcrowding, a mechanical malfunction, weather conditions or other factors could have been involved in the tragedy.
No criminal charges have been filed.
"The boat started to lean and it didn't recover and then it went over," Gaines said. "I don't know if we slid off or I fell off. I don't remember."
She credited her son with saving her life because she can't swim.
"We separated for a little while. I was going under ... so he grabbed me. He said 'I got you mom' and I grabbed onto him. He helped me swim to a chair that was floating before people got us out."
She said she was screaming her daughter's name as she floated in the darkness, hoping someone would yell out that they had her.
The boat, the Kandi Won, was lifted from the bottom of the bay off the north shore of Long Island on Wednesday and towed to a marina for a preliminary inspection.
A memorial fund is being set up to pay for the funeral expenses for Victoria Gaines. People who wish to donate can contact:
Gruenberg Kelly Della
700 Koehler Avenue
Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
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