Remembering lives lost in boat fire
They came from a variety of backgrounds, from recent college graduates to artists, from photographers to animal lovers, from recently married couples to solo travelers and many more.
They each got on Conception for a different reason, whether it be scuba diving or watercolor painting, taking professional photos or celebrating a 42nd birthday, or simply studying water systems or a leisure vacation.
While only a few of the victims were locals of the county, residents of Santa Barbara still — and will always — feel connected to them as though they were family.
One year ago today, 34 lives were lost in a tragic boat fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island.
Early Labor Day morning of Sept. 2, 2019, the 75-foot charter boat Conception burst into flames, claiming the lives of 33 passengers and one crew member. Five of the crew members survived.
In honor of the victims and their families, the city of Santa Barbara Waterfront Department is holding a virtual commemoration and plaque dedication. All members of the public are welcome to attend, and it started at 7 this morning.
The victims were: Carol Diana Adamic, 60, of Santa Cruz; Juha Pekka Ahopelto, 50, of Sunnyvale; Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, of Phoenix; Patricia Ann Beitzinger, 48, of Chandler, Ariz..; Vaidehi Campbell, 41, of Felton; Raymond “Scott” Chan, 59, of Los Altos; Kendra Chan, 26, of Oxnard; Adrian Dahood-Fritz, 40, of Sacramento; Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, of Anaheim; Berenice Felipe, 16, of Santa Cruz; Lisa Fielder, 52, of Mill Valley; Kristina “Kristy” Finstad, 41, of Santa Cruz; Andrew Fritz, 40, of Sacramento; Daniel Garcia, 46, of Berkeley; Marybeth Guiney, 51, of Santa Monica; Yuko Hatano, 39, of San Jose; Yulia Krashennaya, 40, of Berkeley; Alexandra Kurtz, 26, of Santa Barbara; Xiang Lin, 45, of Fremont; Caroline McLaughlin, 35, of Oakland; Charles McIlvain, 44, of Santa Monica; Kaustubh Nirmal, 33, and Sanjeeri DeoPujari (Nirmal), 31, both of Stamford, Conn.; Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, of Stockton; Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, of Stockton; Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, of Imperial Beach; Michael Quitasol, 62, of Stockton; Steven Salika, 55, of Santa Cruz; Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, of Santa Cruz; Sumil Sandhu, 45, of Half Moon Bay; Fernisa Sison, 57, of Stockton; Ted Strom, 62, of Germantown, TN.; Kristian Takvam, 34, of San Francisco; and Wei Tan, 26, of Goleta.
In the wake of the tragedy, on Dec. 12, 2019, Rep. Salud Carbajal sponsored and introduced legislation to mandate additional regulations to secure the safety of individuals and property on board certain small passenger vessels.
In a statement to the News-Press, the congressman said these mandates were “long overdue” for boats like Conception “so we never have to experience another disaster like this again.
“The Conception Boat Fire was an unbelievable tragedy. 34 innocent lives were lost that night, including two from our own community. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of all the victims, whose pain I can’t begin to imagine,” he said in a statement.
The bill, the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 2019, was co-sponsored by five other members of Congress. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on Dec. 13, 2019. The bill was included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
The House and Senate will go to conference and form a final bill in the near future.
“The Congressman is pushing for the bill to be included in the final version,” said Mannal Haddad, spokeswoman for Rep. Carbajal.
Conception was anchored in Platts Harbor off Santa Cruz Island, some 22 miles southwest of Santa Barbara, when it caught fire. Santa Cruz Island is one of five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park.
“Channel Islands National Park continues to mourn the tragic loss of the 34 victims of the Conception dive boat fire,” Ethan McKinley, the Channel Islands National Park superintendent, told the News-Press. “Our thoughts go out to the loved ones of those who passed in this disaster a year ago today.”
One year later, an answer to the question of why is still unknown. However, on Oct. 20, the National Transportation Safety Board will reveal its final report of its investigation into the fire at a board meeting.
“The investigation is wrapping up,” Eric Weiss, a spokesperson for the NTSB, told the News-Press. “The board members will consider findings, probable cause and any recommendations at that time.”
He added that on the day of the board meeting, the NTSB will issue an abstract, and the full report generally comes out shortly in the days thereafter.
“Obviously it was a terrible event,” Mr. Weiss said. “Our goal is to prevent those events from happening in the future through any recommendations that we issue.”
The NTSB’s preliminary report a few days after the fire revealed that all six crew members were asleep when the fire broke out, and there was no “roaming nightwatchman” who is required to be awake and alert in the event of any danger.
The owner of Conception, Truth Aquatics, declined to comment to the News-Press, with four pending lawsuits from four families of the victims. Attorneys said the lawsuit filings document “the massive inferno — likely caused by an unsafe lithium-ion battery charging station.”
Truth Aquatics filed a federal lawsuit to exonerate or limit its liability in the days following the fire.
The U.S. Coast Guard issued new emergency safety requirements to boaters soon after the incident, including: reviewing the vessel’s Certificate of Inspection, emergency duties, responsibilities and equipment maintenance; ensuring firefighting and lifesaving equipment is onboard and operational; and reducing potential fire hazards such as charging of lithium-ion batteries.
The NTSB board meeting will be a virtual webcast at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time Oct. 20.