Investigators already believe that speed played a "major" role in the Friday afternoon boat crash that killed four people on Lake Lanier.
But what, exactly, kind of role that was — whether it actually triggered the crash, simply made it more devastating, or both — may take weeks to determine.
"It was travelling at a pretty high rate of speed," Department of Natural Resources spokesman Maj. Stephen Adams said Monday.
The 38-foot power boat carrying two couples from Kentucky — Anthony and Tammy Reece and Arthur and Melissa McMahan — overturned near Lake Lanier's Cocktail Cove around 4 p.m. Friday. The bodies of Melissa McMahan, 45, and Tammy Reece, 44, were recovered Saturday morning. Their husbands' bodies were found Sunday morning.
Several people boating in the area witnessed the crash but no other vessels were involved. Authorities don't yet know if the couples died from the impact or drowned. They were not wearing life jackets.
The full DNR investigation could take up to 60 days to be completed, Adams said. Investigators are still speaking with witnesses and looking for other clues about what may have caused the boat to overturn — possibilities that include everything from a wave, a sudden turn or some kind of mechanical failure.
Adams said investigators are pulling data from the boat's GPS and from the computer in its motor. Physical damage like stress fractures in a boat's fiberglass can also help lead investigators to an answer.
"We think speed was involved," Adams said. "We're just trying to figure out what started the chain of events."
There is no speed limit on the lake, Adams said. But boaters are obligated to operate their vessels in a manner that doesn't endanger others.
"The faster a boat is going," Adams said, "the harder it would be for someone to yield the right of way or make decisions on where they're going to go."
The Reeces and McMahans were in town for the annual Pirates of Lanier Charity Poker Run, which didn't start until Saturday. The event is an on-water costume party that involves participants visiting checkpoints across the lake to draw "cards." The boat with the best poker hand at the end of the run wins.
It is not a race.
Messages left with Lanier Partners of North Georgia, which puts on the event, were not immediately returned Monday afternoon. The group did post on its Facebook page Saturday, ordering that no participants go faster than 60 miles per hour.
"The Lanier Partners would like to send our deepest thoughts and prayers to the families of those involved in an accident on Lake Lanier today," the post also said. "The accident involved part of our poker run family and we are with heavy hearts tonight."
The McMahans' children have also released a statement.
"Our parents meant the world to us, we never realized how much impact they had on people’s lives," it said, in part. "They both were such amazing, loving and caring parents, grandparents, children, siblings and friends to so many. They were one of a kind and will truly be missed."
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