AKWESASNE, N.Y. (AP) — Federal authorities say a boat operator knew his passengers could not swim when he abandoned six Indian nationals on a sinking boat during a failed smuggling attempt across the frigid St. Lawrence River into northern New York.

Brian Lazore, a U.S. citizen, was ordered held without bail last week on smuggling charges. His defense attorney, Gabrielle DiBella, told The Associated Press that Lazore is “presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.”

Authorities spotted the boat April 28 after it left a hotel in Cornwall, Ontario, and crossed the St. Lawrence River.

Court filings saying Lazore “proceeded to exit the sinking vessel and walked to shore” with the vessel taking on water some 800 feet (244 meters) from the Canadian border.

The boat was almost completely submerged when the firefighters arrived.

Lazore and the six passengers were later treated for hypothermia and then arrested by Border Patrol.

“We were going to die,” one of the passengers told authorities, according to court documents. “Police saved us.”

Another passenger told border authorities he “knew this was not a typical manner to enter the U.S.,” according to court documents.

Lazore was charged with felony “alien smuggling.”

“Outstanding cooperation between law enforcement and rescue services prevented what could have been a horrific tragedy,” Matthew Rourke, the chief of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Police Department, said in a statement.