California

33 bodies recovered, 1 person still missing after dive boat fire

10 dramatic images from tragic dive boat fire off Santa Barbara coast

The dive boat Conception became engulfed in flames on Monday, September 2, 2019 off the Southern California coast. The passengers were sleeping on a below deck during a recreational scuba diving trip. Twenty-five people were confirmed dead.
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The dive boat Conception became engulfed in flames on Monday, September 2, 2019 off the Southern California coast. The passengers were sleeping on a below deck during a recreational scuba diving trip. Twenty-five people were confirmed dead.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of 33 people who died in a dive boat fire off the Channel Islands, according to a Wednesday news release from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Crews “were successful in locating 13 additional victims” on Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office said. Recovery efforts are ongoing for the sole person who remains missing.

Authorities are mapping the ocean floor using sonar, so divers can “target specific areas of interest,” according to the release.

The remains of the victims were taken to the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office to begin the process of identifying the bodies, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Thirty-nine people were aboard the boat — 33 passengers and six crew members. Five crew members escaped from the burning boat.

The dive boat Conception was owned by the Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics. A representative for Truth Aquatics confirmed to The Tribune on Wednesday morning that the company has canceled all upcoming dive trips out of respect for the victims. Information was not available regarding when the company plans to resume trips.

Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer confirmed in a Wednesday afternoon news conference that Truth Aquatics “is not operating at this time.”

Neubauer said that four of the five surviving crew members have been tested for alcohol and drug testing has been conducted on all five crew members.

The results of the alcohol tests came back negative, and the drug test results are still pending, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said during the news conference.

Homendy added that the one crew member who wasn’t tested for alcohol was being taken to the hospital at that time.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said the agency suspended the search for survivors just before 10 a.m.

The agency made the decision after searching an area of about 160 miles for just under 24 hours, Rochester said. During that time, crews did not see anyone else entering the water or any “additional signs of distress or debris.”

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office sent members of its dive team to help with the rescue and recovery, said Erik Raney, spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

There were three decks on the boat, which had a 46-person capacity. Crew members’ quarters were on the top deck, while passengers slept on the lowest deck, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Tuesday.

The lowest deck had two exits, but both seem to have been blocked by flames, he said. No one trying to escape was able to make it past the fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the boat fire, NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said in a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

“It appears that both exits from the sleeping quarters bring you up inside the vessel,” Marjorie Murtagh Cooke, former director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety, told the Los Angeles Times. “The investigation could lead to changes in the way vessels are designed or protected.”

Brown said that most if not all of the victims will need to be identified through DNA analysis due to the condition of the bodies, many of which were burned. A team from the California Department of Justice will assist with its rapid DNA analysis tool that was used to identify victims of the Camp Fire, he added.

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