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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 3rd, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 27

Boat fire near Channel Islands under investigation

By Zac Ezzone

Around 3 a.m. on Sept. 2, a 75-foot commercial diving boat with 39 people onboard became engulfed in flames before sinking to the ocean floor off the north shore of Santa Cruz Island.


VESSEL FIRE
On Sept. 2, a commercial diving boat with 39 people onboard caught fire near Santa Cruz Island.
PHOTO COURTESY SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The Santa Barbara-based boat Conception was being chartered for a Labor Day weekend diving trip near the Channel Islands. Five people managed to escape the burning vessel after jumping into the ocean and were rescued by a nearby boat. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

As of a 10 a.m. press conference on Sept. 3, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said officials have found the bodies of 20 victims, leaving 14 unaccounted for. At the press conference, Brown said officials are working to stabilize the underwater vessel so they can search through the boat’s wreckage to find the remaining missing passengers. Investigators are beginning to work with victims’ family members, he said, to identify the bodies officials have recovered so far.

The five survivors are crew members who were in the boat’s crew quarters on the vessel’s third level at the time of the fire. The remaining 34 passengers, including one crew member, were sleeping in the ship’s lowest level when the fire broke out. During the press conference, Brown said it appears the stairwell and escape hatch that passengers could have used to escape the lower level were both blocked by the flames.

Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester, who also spoke at the Sept. 3 press conference, said the boat is required to have smoke detectors as well as fire fighting equipment. She added that the boat has always been in compliance with federal regulations during annual inspections by the Coast Guard. During the press conference, she said she couldn’t confirm when the last inspection took place.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for survivors at 9:40 a.m. on Sept. 3, Rochester said. The Coast Guard moved on to assisting local agencies with their recovery efforts.

“The Coast Guard will continue working alongside our partner agencies throughout the recovery and now investigation phase of this incident to try and determine why this incident occurred and what we can learn from this tragedy moving forward,” Rochester said. 

At the press conference, Brown declined to comment on the written statements the five surviving crew members have submitted to officials. Brown said officials were planning to interview the crew members later on Sept. 3. 




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