California boat fire: Harrowing stories of death and survival aboard Conception as fire ravaged boat – Los Angeles Times,

California boat fire: Harrowing stories of death and survival aboard Conception as fire ravaged boat – Los Angeles Times,


Harrowing tales have emerged from surviving crew members about the fire that broke out onthe diving boat Conceptionoff the Ventura County coast on Monday morning, leading to the deadliest maritime disaster in modern California history.

Authorities say 34 people sleeping below deck were killed.Five crew members on the deck escapedandhave been interviewed by investigatorssince the fire.

Sources told The Times thata preliminary investigation into the firehas suggested serious safety deficiencies aboard the vessel , including the lack of a “roaming night watchman” who would stay awake while others slept and alert passengers in the event of a fire or other dangers.

Here is what we know about the chaotic minutesafter the fire broke out:

Fire followed a night dive

A source familiar with the crew’s accounts told The Times that hours before the fire erupted, the passengers had participated in a night dive. A crew member who had been straightening up the galley and mess area went upstairs to the wheelhouse about 2: 35 am

Before the crew member went upstairs, he said, he checked to make sure the stove was cold and flammable materials were stowed, according to the source, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sometime before  3: 15 am, the crew member heard a noise and thought someone on the boat had tripped. The crew member went down to the middle level and saw the fire.The flames prevented himfrom getting down into the galley, the source said.


The Conception was on a Labor Day weekend diving excursion when it burned early Monday morning. Sources: MarineTraffic, OpenStreetMap

(Los Angeles Times)



Waking to an unstoppable fire

The crew members who survived have told investigators they awoke to a fire that could not be stopped.

The one who initially heard the noise looked over the side and saw flames coming up. He tried to use the ladder, “but the ladder was engulfed in flames,” said Jennifer Homendy, who is overseeing the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation ,. “They just couldn’t get in.”

The entrance to the sleeping quarters and the escape hatchwere blocked by flames.

“He heard no smoke alarm, he smelled no smoke, but he did see flames when he looked over, ”she told The Times on Wednesday. “They didn’t hear anything.”



A drone photo shows the 75 – foot Conception on May 3.

(Courtesy of Don Barthelmess)



Jumping overboard

She said at least one crew member reported jumping  over the side with other crew to try to rescue passengers.

“The galley area was engulfed in flames,” Homendy said, recounting what the crew member told investigators. “They tried to enter through the double doors but couldn’t get in because of the flames. They tried to access the galley from the front through the windows, but the windows wouldn’t open. ”

California boat fire


The dive boat Conception engulfed in flames on Monday morning off the Ventura County coast.

(Santa Barbara County Fire Department)



Return to burning vessel

One crew member broke his leg jumping from the boat. Two others swam to a dinghy that had been tied to the Conception  and helped  

They contacted authorities and “returned to the vessel to find survivors,” Homendy said.

By then, the boat was fully engulfed.

California boat fire


A fire boat sprays the burning Conception off the coast of Ventura County early Monday.

(Capt. Paul Amaral / Tow Boat Ventura)



Looking in vain for survivors

Shirley Hansen and her husband, Bob, were anchored near the Conception off Santa Cruz Islandwhen they were awakened by loud thumping noiseson the side of their 60 – foot vessel.

“It was horrific, the pounding,” Shirley Hansen said. “Our boat is very well made. Having that sound come through [showed] they were very in need of help. ”

Outside in a dinghy were crew members from the Conception. The men were wet, distraught, some wearing just underwear. One man appeared to have broken his leg, Shirley Hansen said. Another had injured his ankle, she said.

By the time the dinghy arrived at the Hansens’ boat, the Conception was engulfed in flames, said Bob Hansen.

Shirley Hansen said she and her husband gave the crew members blankets and clothes. Some of the men were crying, one telling them that his girlfriend was still below deck on the Conception.








                              Some of the thousands of people join a vigil on the beach in honor of those who lost their lives in the Conception boat fire along the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica.                          (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Allison Metchikof, left and Rachel Levi, right, embrace during a vigil hosted by Deep Blue Scuba Center in honor of the victims aboard the dive ship Conception in Long Beach.                          (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Divers and support crews from many agencies work the scene of the dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island.                          (Santa Barbara County)        










                             The derrick barge Salta Verde off the coast of Santa Cruz Island upon its arrival late Wednesday at the scene of the wreck of the dive boat Conception.                          (US Coast Guard)        










                             The search area where divers were looking through the sunken wreckage of the Conception is outlined.                          (KABC-TV)        










                             Divers and support crews from many agencies work the scene of the dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island.                          (Santa Barbara County)        










                             The owners of Truth Aquatics and the dive boat Conception, Glen and Dana Fritzler, right, and their daughter Ashley, left, during an interview in Santa Barbara, Calif.                          (KEYT-TV)        










                             Surfer Tim DeVries of Santa Barbara views the “Lost at Sea Memorial” at the end of the Santa Barbara Harbor jetty Thursday morning. The memorial reads “In memory of our loved ones whose lives and destinies have been claimed by the sea.”                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Members of the FBI dive team view a growing memorial prior to departing Thursday morning to the site of the dive boat tragedy.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             People pay their respects at a makeshift memorial in Santa Barbara for victims of the deadly dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island.                          (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)        










                             CJ Andelman, 12, of Santa Barbara, who has become a scuba diver along with her twin sister , plays her harp Wednesday morning during the memorial at Santa Barbara Harbor.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Jennifer Homendy, center, of the National Transportation Safety Board, with other NTSB and Coast Guard officials on Santa Barbara Harbor aboard Vision, the sister ship to Conception.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Santa Barbara resident Britany Martin lets her son Theo, 2, place flowers at a growing memorial to the fire victims at Santa Barbara Harbor.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             FBI dive team members prepare to leave Santa Barbara Harbor on Wednesday morning and head to the site of the fire.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             A memorial is growing at Santa Barbara Harbor, where the dive boat Conception was based.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Olivia, left, sister of a female crew member thought to have died in the boat fire, hugs Jennifer Stafford, who placed flowers at Santa Barbara Harbor.                          (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)        










                             The Conception burns off Santa Cruz Island on Monday morning.                          (Ventura County Fire Department)        










                             Search and rescue personnel remove one of more than a dozen body bags in Santa Barbara Harbor after the Conception diving boat caught fire early Monday.                          (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)        










                             After hanging a dive flag in memory of the victims, JJ Lambert, 38, who said he had dived off the Conception as a kid, is hugged by Jenna Marsala, 33, at Santa Barbara Harbor near where the Concepti on departed.                          (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)        










                             Orlando Aldana places candles, one for each person aboard the Conception, at a makeshift memorial at Sea Landing in the Santa Barbara Harbor.                          (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)        










                             At Santa Barbara Harbor, James Miranda kneels in prayer. “It’s a very sad moment for California,” he said.                          (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Rescuers and law enforcement, on a boat docked at Santa Barbara Harbor, move a body that was recovered after Monday’s deadly boat fire.                          (Daniel Dreifuss / Associated Press)        










                             The body of a victim is moved at Santa Barbara Harbor.                          (Daniel Dreifuss / Associated Press)        










                             U.S. Coast Guard searches for victims of the dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island on Monday afternoon.                          (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)        










                             Dive boat captain Jerry Boylan is brought back to U.S. Coast Guard headquarters at Channel Islands Harbor on Monday in Oxnard.                          (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)        










                             Firefighters arrive back at the U.S. Coast Guard Station after battling the fire.                          (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)        










                             A victim from a dive boat that caught fire off the Ventura County coast early Monday morning is taken to an ambulance in Oxnard.                          (OnScene.TV)        










                             The captain of the Grape Escape boat, which rescued survivors of a boat fire off the Channel Islands, looks on near the U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard on Monday.                          (Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)        










                             Firefighters battle a blaze on a dive boat near Santa Cruz Island.                          (Santa Barbara County Fire Department)        










                             A diving boat fire near Santa Cruz Island off the Ventura County coast.                          (Santa Barbara County Fire Department)        










                             The dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the vessel off the Southern California Coast.                          (Santa Barbara County)        










                             The dive boat Conception seen at dawn Monday burns off Santa Cruz Island.                          (Santa Barbara County Fire)        










                             Conception, the boat that caught fire off Ventura County.                          (Truth Aquatics)        




Another man mentioned that the diving party had celebrated threePassengers’ birthdayshours earlier, including that of a 17 – year-old girl who was on the trip with her parents.

Shirley Hanson said two of the crew members got back in the dinghy to look for anyone who may have jumped overboard.

“But they came back and there was no one that they found,” she said.

) The owner of the Conception, Glen Fritzler,told KEYT-TV thatthe crew “did their best.”

“They did reenter the vessel from the back of the boat after they swam around it. They could not get to firefighting equipment because everything was engulfed, ”he told the station.

Of the crew, he added:“ They’re breaking down. They’re seeking counseling. It’s a very tough time for them. ”

A salvage operation for the boat is set to begin Friday.


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