CALIFORNIA — All 34 people who died in the Sept. 2 boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara have now been identified by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. The female body of the last victim from the ill-fated Conception was located this week in a cove just west of where the vessel sank near Santa Cruz Island.
During a press conference Thursday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown praised the coordination and cooperation of all of the dive teams involved in the challenging recovery operation. “The fact that there were so many casualties and so many innocent people that lost their lives in this, it has been emotionally charged as well as physically difficult for the people involved,” he said. “It is with a heavy heart that I share the names of those lost with you.”:
Carol Diana Adamic, 60, female, of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Juha Pekka Ahopelto, 50, male, of Sunnyvale, Calif.
Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, male, of Phoenix, Ariz.
Patricia Ann Beitzinger 48, female, of Chandler, Ariz.
Vaidehi Campbell, 41, female, of Felton, Calif.
Raymond “Scott” Chan, 59, male, of Los Altos, Calif.
Kendra Chan, 26, female, of Oxnard, Calif.
Adrian Dahood-Fritz, 40, female of Sacramento, Calif.
Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, male, of Anaheim, Calif.
Berenice Felipe, 16, female, of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Lisa Fiedler, 52, female, of Mill Valley, Calif.
Kristina “Kristy” Finstad, 41, female, of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Andrew Fritz, 40, male, of Sacramento, Calif.
Daniel Garcia, 46, male, of Berkeley, Calif.
Marybeth Guiney, 51, female, of Santa Monica, Calif.
Yuko Hatano, 39, female, of San Jose, Calif.
Yulia Krashennaya, 40, female, of Berkeley, Calif.
Alexandra Kurtz, 26, female, of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Xiang Lin, 45, female, of Fremont, Calif.
Caroline McLaughlin, 35, female, of Oakland, Calif.
Charles McIlvain, 44, male, of Santa Monica, Calif.
Kaustubh Nirmal, 33, male, of Stamford, Conn.
Sanjeeri DeoPujari (Nirmal), 31, female, of Stamford, Conn.
Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, female, of Stockton, Calif.
Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, female, of Stockton, Calif.
Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, female, of Imperial Beach, Calif.
Michael Quitasol, 62, male, of Stockton, Calif.
Steven Salika, 55, male, of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, female, of Santa Cruz, Calif.
Sumil Sandhu, 45, male, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Fernisa Sison, 57, female, of Stockton, Calif.
Ted Strom, 62, male, of Germantown, Tenn.
Kristian Takvam, 34, male of San Francisco, Calif.
Wei Tan, 26, female, of Goleta, Calif.
A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report released Thursday on the fire determined that all crewmembers on board were asleep when the fire started. The blaze started shortly after 3 a.m. Of those who died, 33 were passengers and one was a crewmember of the 75-foot commercial diving boat. The vessel was anchored off Santa Cruz Island southwest of Santa Barbara as part of a three-day diving trip, according to the NTSB.
From initial interviews with surviving crewmembers, investigators learned that five crewmembers were asleep in berths behind the boat’s wheelhouse on the top level of the three-level vessel, and one was asleep in the passenger berthing area within the hull, according to the two-page preliminary report.
One of the crewmembers in the wheelhouse berths woke up because of a noise and saw a fire rising from the salon level below. He alerted the rest of the crew behind the wheelhouse and the captain radioed a distress message to the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the report.
The report said the crewmembers tried to get to the area where the passengers were sleeping but were overwhelmed by smoke and had to jump overboard. Two crewmembers and the captain swam to another area of the boat and got back on, opened the hatch to the engine room and saw no fire.
The crew eventually launched a small skiff and went to a recreational boat anchored nearby to continue radioing for help. Coast Guard crews and firefighters arrived to extinguish the fire on the boat, which subsequently sank in about 60 feet of water, according to the report.
The source of the fire remains under investigation, and NTSB officials have collected documents from recent Coast Guard inspections of the boat and visited another vessel, Vision, owned by the company Truth Aquatics Inc. that owned the Conception. The Coast Guard announced Wednesday that it is conducting a formal investigation the mishap.
The Conception, was lifted to the water’s surface Thursday from about 60 feet below the surface.
Douglas Schwartz, the representing attorney for Truth Aquatics, which owns the Conception, released a statement in response to the NTSB findings. It said, it part, “While we don’t officially know the cause of the fire, we do believe from current evidence and testimonials that it was not caused by the operator, the boat or the crew, who acted heroically and did all in their power to try and save the lives of the passengers and their fellow crew member.
“We all hope and anticipate new regulations will come as a result of the investigation. We would ask whether safety agencies that have been aware of the dangers of lithium ion batteries in other modes of transportation have considered applying this knowledge to the charter boating industry.”
Since the tragic fire, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued a safety bulletin focusing on emergency escape routes, crew training and the charging of lithium-ion batteries aboard vessels. It’s unclear if investigators are looking into the possibility that the fire was ignited by the charging of electronic devices in the below-decks sleeping quarters.
—Bay City News contributed to this report.
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