23 boat fire victims identified; they likely died from smoke inhalation, pathologist says

Authorities have identified 18 of the 33 bodies recovered from the dive boat that caught fire and sank on Monday off the coast of the Channel Islands, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Meanwhile, a pathologist working with the team believes they died of smoke inhalation, the Sheriff Bill Brown said Friday.

Brown announced at a news conference Friday morning that the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office helped investigators identify the Conception victims by matching DNA from the badly-burned bodies with swabs taken from family members.

The same rapid DNA identification process was used last summer to identify victims of the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County last year, Brown said.

The families of 22 of the victims have been notified of their identification, and the Sheriff’s Office released their names to the media. Many of the victims had already been identified by their families, friends and workplaces.

  • Raymond Scott Chan, 59, Los Altos
  • Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, Anaheim
  • Daniel Garcia, 46, Berkeley
  • Marybeth Guiney, 51, Santa Monica
  • Yulia Krashennaya, 40, of Berkeley
  • Alexandra Kurtz, 25, Santa Barbara
  • Caroline McLaughlin, 35, Oakland
  • Ted Strom, 62, Germantown, Tennessee
  • Wei Tan, 26, Goleta
  • Kendra Chan, 26, Oxnard
  • Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, Stockton
  • Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, Stockton

  • Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, Imperial Beach

  • Michael Quitasol, 62, Stockton

  • Carol Diana Adamic, 60, Santa Cruz

  • Andrew Fritz, 40, Sacramento

  • Charles McIlvain, 44, Santa Monica

  • Steven Salika, 55, Santa Cruz

  • Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, Santa Cruz

  • Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, Phoenix, Arizona

  • Patricia Ann Beitzinger, 48, Chandler, Arizona

  • Vaidehi Campbell, 41, Felton

Authorities have been able to contact all 34 victims’ families, some of whom were located internationally, Brown said.

The divers from the U.S. Coast Guard, Sheriff’s Office and FBI will continue searching for the last victim, who has yet to be located or recovered, Brown said.

There were 39 people aboard the Conception when it caught fire — 33 passengers and six crew members. Five of the crew members were on the vessel’s top deck and were able to escape when flames broke out in the galley, which was located on the second level.

Kurtz, the sixth crew member, was sleeping in the passenger berth area at the bottom of the ship and was unable to get off the boat with the others, Brown said.

Crew members have told National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators they tried to get to the lower level of the boat to help passengers escape, but intense flames forced them to jump off the vessel.

Windy conditions impact boat salvage

The Coast Guard will also begin efforts to salvage the Conception, which remains upside-down on the bottom of the ocean after sinking on Monday morning, said Capt. Monica Rochester.

Strong winds will pose a challenge to efforts to remove the boat from the water, as investigators want to keep the vessel together as much as possible, Rochester said.

“Salvage operations can take some time,” she said. “It is a very exacting, tolling process for those on the scene.”

The wind is expected to pick up starting on Friday afternoon and continuing through the weekend, Rochester said. If weather conditions take a turn for the worst, the salvage may need to be postponed until Monday, she said.

Authorities are hopeful removing the boat may allow divers to locate the 34th victim, as it will give them access to areas they couldn’t reach before, Brown said.

ATF joins fire investigation

Investigators have conducted toxicology tests and externally examined the recovered bodies, Brown said. They will not conduct traditional autopsies of the bodies, he said.

The team’s pathologist believes the victims likely died from smoke inhalation, and the burns were sustained after their deaths, Brown said.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, and an NTSB member on Thursday said investigators were “focused on everything,” including the vessel’s electrical system, wiring and charging cell phones and cameras.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Response Team will also assist in determining the cause of the fire, said Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division.

“The team that’s coming here to try and get to the bottom of this is exceptional,” Canino said.

Brown said ATF’s involvement did not indicate the investigation had shifted to focus on criminal causes, and authorities are looking at “all elements” of the incident.

“A criminal element to that is always a possibility,” he said.

A vigil for the Conception victims was scheduled for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in Santa Barbara at Chase Palm Park. For more information, visit countyofsb.org.

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