updated 10/5/2009 4:36:47 PM ET 2009-10-05T20:36:47

A powerboat navigating a channel in an area dotted with boggy salt marshes ran aground off Long Island, killing three people and seriously injuring four others, authorities said.

The 40-foot speedboat plowed onto marshland on a moonlit Sunday night off the island's southern shore, just south of the hamlet of Wantagh, authorities said. The boat's captain was thrown off the craft and pronounced dead by rescuers when they arrived.

Capt. Joe Frohnhoefer, the founder of SeaTow, a marine assistance organization with headquarters in Southold, said one of its boats was the first to arrive at the crash site, near a bridge on a parkway that leads south to Jones Beach.

The boat was about 150 feet from the water, Frohnhoefer said.

"To hit the marsh and run up on top of it like that, you would have to be going at a pretty good rate of speed," Nassau County police Det. Lt. Kevin Smith told Newsday in Monday editions.

Smith said he did not know how fast the boat was going.

The Nassau County Police Department said officers responded to the accident at about 7 p.m., along with the U.S. Coast Guard, Wantagh Fire Department and the New York City Police Department. At least two people were airlifted to nearby hospitals, according to the Coast Guard. The survivors remained hospitalized Monday morning.

Nassau County police were investigating the cause of the accident. They did not release the names of the victims.

Frohnhoefer said he has seen four similar accidents, usually occurring when boats run up on sandbars while trying to navigate the complex network of channels and bays.

"It's a lack of knowledge, a lack of boating knowledge," he said.

Frohnhoefer said it was too early to speculate on a cause of the crash.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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