Bell rung 34 times and plaque unveiled to honor lives lost in dive boat blaze
The sun broke through the clouds for just a moment at 7 on Wednesday morning.
At the end of the Breakwater of the Santa Barbara Harbor, 15 to 20 family and community members gathered in the morning gloom to have first looks at the new plaque commemorating the 34 souls lost in the Conception fire.
The plaque reads, “In honor of those who lost their lives September 2, 2019 on board the Conception at Platt’s Harbor, Santa Cruz Island.” The light green plaque placed on a large rock then lists each of the victim’s names.
Following the unveiling, a bell was rung 34 times — for each life lost.
Despite the chilly ocean breeze, attendees embraced one another, reflected at the photo memorial and gazed out at the blue waves that their lost family members and friends loved so much.
James Adamic lost three family members in the tragedy: his sister, Diana Adamic, her husband, Steve Salika and their daughter, Tia Adamic-Salika. They were celebrating Tia’s 17th birthday when the boat went up in flames.
“They were all there together. They all wanted to go on a trip together. They all perished together,” he told the News-Press. “It’s a good way to keep their memories alive for everybody, and it’s a nice way of being recognized for our loss. It’s very touching.”
The memorial, covered in bright flowers, candles, dolphin balloons and personal valuables, displayed photos of the victims and various messages alongside them. Swim fins, hats, leis and goggles were draped over the shrine, as attendees clutched the framed memories of their loved ones.
“This is such an incredibly important day to remember,” Suzanne Grimmesey, from the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness, told the News-Press. “We remember all the lives that were lost, and it will be permanently imprinted in many people’s minds. We’re grateful to have this memorial here that people can come and reflect and remember forever.”
The Conception fire was the largest loss of life in a single incident in Santa Barbara County history, the worst maritime disaster in California since 1865 and the deadliest in the United States since 1989.
In a commemoration video, Sheriff Bill Brown said the victims of the tragedy came from a “cross-section of humanity,” people of different races, origins, professions and more. He described them as “very different people of varied backgrounds who were united by their mutual sense of adventure and love of the ocean.”
“My only hope is that you have been able to achieve some small measure of comfort knowing that your loved ones died doing something that they loved — participating in an expedition to experience the camaraderie of scuba diving and to bear witness to the extraordinary beauty and wonder of life under the sea,” the sheriff said.
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo also expressed her sorrow in the video to those mourning the loss of loved ones.
“I offer support, hope and strength to everyone remembering their loved ones at this anniversary,” the mayor said. “Santa Barbara herself offers natural beauty and a welcoming shoreline as a place to remember and heal.”