As interviews continue with the crew members and others associated with the Conception dive boat, authorities on Thursday shared some of the recounts of the survivors.
“What’s emerging from the interviews… is a harrowing story of the moments before the fire erupted on the vessel,” said Jennifer Homendy, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “One crew member reported that he awoke to a noise and left his bunk and out to the wheelhouse deck and saw flames erupting from the galley area.”
The crew member, according to Ms. Homendy, tried to get down the ladder but flames had engulfed it. The crew that was on the bridge of the vessel jumped down the main deck and one of the crew members suffered a broken leg while doing so.
The crew member that reached the main deck reported that the double doors of the galley were also engulfed in flames.
“They then tried to go to the front part of the vessel to get into the window portion in front of the vessel and they could not get into the window,” Ms. Homendy said, later clarifying that the window had also been engulfed by flames.
“At that point, due to the heat, flames and smoke, the crew had to jump from the boat and they reported that two of the crew members had swam to the back of the vessel to the skiff,” Ms. Homendy said.
The two crew members got the skiff and rescued the other crew members and took them to a nearby vessel, transferred them and tried to call 9-1-1 for rescue, she said.
“At that point, they left the vessel and returned back to the Conception in the skiff to try and rescue any survivors,” she said.
Ms. Homendy did not disclose the role of the captain of the vessel during the moments after the fire. She also later clarified that information shared with reporters Thursday is what the crew members had reported, and that investigators will evaluate that and use it to develop a timeline.
The NTSB investigation into possible safety issues involving the vessel is ongoing. Personnel with the NTSB are expected to remain on scene for at least another week, but even after leaving the investigation will continue. A preliminary report is expected to be issued within 10 days of the incident and a final report is expected within 12 to 18 months.
If any safety concerns arise during the course of the investigation, the NTSB will issue urgent safety recommendations.
The five crew members were the lone survivors.
What caused the fire?
The fire is suspected to have started on the second floor of the three-floor vessel, which is located above the passenger bunk area. It is still unclear what caused the fire, but Ms. Homendy said Thursday that there were a number of possibilities. The second floor is where the electric stove and kitchen area is located, as well as wiring and electrical systems, and possible gear that was being charged.
“We are not ruling out any possible ignition sources,” Ms. Homendy said. “We’re focused on everything, including the electrical system and wiring.”
Requirements for the vessel
Adam Tucker, who is leading the investigation by the NTSB, said Thursday that regulatory requirements for Conception did not require the vessel to have smoke detectors that are wired to the wheelhouse.
One of the crew members interviewed disclosed that he did not hear a smoke alarm after the fire began.
Investigators are also examining the adequacy of existing safety regulations, including whether a safety briefing took place on the boat.
After taking a tour of Vision, Ms. Homendy made mention of the lack of fire extinguishers aboard the vessel. She gave context to her comments Thursday.
“I am not a survival factors expert, so personally what I saw on the Vision in the bunk room was one fire extinguisher. I saw another fire extinguisher in the galley area and then one on the bridge,” she said. “That’s something we’ll have to look at – the adequacy of the fire suppression system.”
The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that there was a lack of a “roaming nightwatchman” who is required to be awake and alert passengers in the event of a fire or other dangers, according to sources involved in the investigation.
People involved with the investigation could not confirm this report, and stated that the inquiry would review whether all of the regulations and requirements were followed.
Memorial continues to grow
As authorities continue to investigate the circumstances around the dive boat fire, a memorial to honor the victims along Canoe Way near the Sea Landing dive shop near the harbor continues to grow.
Flowers had been tucked into the chain link fence and 34 candles were placed along the sidewalk Monday night, and the fence now features a number of hand-written messages, seashells and rocks, posters and photos.
“Such beautiful strong souls loving life loving earth taken too soon,” read one of the posters dedicated to Michael Quitasol, Fernisa Sison and Mr. Quitasol’s daughters EvanMichel, Nicole and Angela.
“Please know all of the families and friends grieving from this heartbreaking tragedy are in our hearts and prayers,” read another poster signed by the staff and children of Poppins Family Services After-School Program.
FBI agents were again spotted Thursday aboard Vision, which is owned and operated by Truth Aquatics, the same company that owns Conception.
Salvage operations underway
Efforts to salvage the Conception dive boat began Thursday afternoon, as the owner of the vessel contracted Global Diving and Salvage to try and retrieve the sunken vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard will oversee the implementation of the salvage plan, and once the vessel is removed from the ocean it will be transferred to a crane barge and escorted by law enforcement to a secure location.
Ms. Homendy told reporters Thursday that a few locations have been discussed but the location had yet to be finalized.
Environmental concerns from the salvage operation will be mitigated in coordination with the National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, authorities said.
High winds are expected over the next several days that could make it “somewhat difficult to raise the vessel,” Ms. Homendy said.
“It could be tomorrow or it could be several weeks from now,” Eric Weiss, spokesman for NTSB, told the News-Press. “The salvage operations are delicate industrial ballets so we’ll wait and see how it plays out.”
Dive teams from the Unified Command continued recovery efforts for the last missing person from the dive boat on Thursday, using tactics such as remote operated vessels and side-scan sonar. As of Thursday evening, 33 of the 34 passengers had been recovered.
At 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Santa Barbara County proclaimed a local emergency in response to the incident. By proclaiming a local state of emergency, the county ensures that all resources are available for emergency response and supporting activities, said Gina DePinto, county spokeswoman.
The sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau has requested specialized personnel and equipment from outside the county operational area to assist with the recovery and identification of the victims.
Vigil planned this evening
Local organizations will be hosting a vigil tonight for the community to gather, grieve, show support and be in company with one another. The vigil is scheduled for 6:30 to 7:30 at Chase Palm Park, 323 E. Cabrillo Blvd.
“We recognize this tragedy has affected so many from within the community and throughout the world,” Suzanne Grimmesey, of the county Behavioral Wellness Department, said in a statement. “This vigil is an important time for many to come together to grieve and heal.”
Representatives from the Community Wellness Team, the dive community and chaplains from the faith community will offer words of condolences and support.
Parking is available along Cabrillo Boulevard and in the Garden Street parking lot. Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets or chairs.