‘These people needed to be remembered’
Flowers were tucked into the chain link fence and candles were spread out along the sidewalk just outside of the Sea Landing dive shop near the Santa Barbara Harbor on Tuesday afternoon, serving as a memorial to honor the 34 victims of the fire aboard the diving boat Conception.
Orlando Aldana, 42, of Santa Barbara, purchased 34 candles Monday afternoon from Santa Cruz Market on nearby Montecito Street and placed them along the fence. He said he felt compelled to honor the victims.
“I just felt like these people needed to be remembered,” he told the News-Press. “It’s just something we do when one of our relatives passes away in my family. We light candles for them.”
Mr. Aldana was impressed that all 34 candles seemed to hold up and were able to remain in place after being lit for several hours Monday night. He was also humbled because the lighter he placed on the top of the fence remained there, untouched.
“Everybody was super respectful and left everything in its place,” he said.
Steve Spurlin, 57, of Lodi, had just tucked a bouquet of flowers into the fence after receiving some unexpected news. He was exchanging texts with friends back home and was informed he had mutual acquaintances with Micheal Quitasol, who was on board the boat with his wife and three daughters.
“It’s unreal,” Mr. Spurlin said. “I never thought I would know anybody on that boat.”
Just last month, Mr. Spurlin organized a reunion for EMT and paramedics in the Stockton area. On Aug. 25, he received a notification that Mr. Quitasol had asked to join the group after missing the reunion.
“I remembered thinking ‘Wow, I hadn’t seen that name in a long time,’” Mr. Spurlin recalled. “I hadn’t seen him in a while but I remembered him and he was one of those people that stood out.
“This is kind of my tribute from all of us,” he said. “It’s not much, but it’s something.”
Mark Stienecker, 63, used to work on the dive ship and took four different excursions on Conception in 2005.
He praised the dive company, Truth Aquatics, for always ensuring their boats were up to code to offer a fun adventure.
“It’s really bizarre,” he said. “It was weird because I had been on that boat for two months.”
News trucks filled the parking lot near the dive shop. Several TV stations were waiting to do their live shots along Canoe Way just outside the shop. Some people appeared to be going out of their way to pay respects, while others were carrying on with their typical routine walking near the harbor. Most of those who took in the memorial did so in a very somber fashion, reading the notes and compassionate messages written by loved ones.
A book about diving the world was placed in the center of the memorial. One spectator sat down to read through the book – which brought a solemn smile to her face as she flipped through the pages.
One flag read: “We’ll remember you when we dive.”
A picture of a man and a woman was also placed along the fence, which read: “I love you Ally. You know I always will. Love Rob.”
“It’s just so close to home,” said Elizabeth Salinas, 20, of Oxnard. “It’s devastating. There’s really no other words.”
Andy Hirata, 23, was also still in shock when asked about the tragic event.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “All of those people were just out to have a good time. They weren’t expecting it. It kind of goes to show how brutal things can be. You never know. Everyday is a new day and it’s a blessing.”
Both were appreciative to see the Santa Barbara community rally behind the victims.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to see how the community comes together,” Ms. Salinas said.
Ty Hernandez, 18, of Lompoc, said he is a free diver and felt a connection with the victims due to their passion for the hobby.
“I just had to pay respect because it’s sad to me that we both enjoy our sport or hobby and that led these people to lose their lives,” he said, “It’s just sad to me.”
Mr. Hernandez, who now attends Westmont, said he had been planning a diving trip to Santa Cruz Island but is now unsure if he will go.
“I don’t know how I can feel the same about diving,” he said.
Before he left, Mr. Hernandez took a handful of pink and red flowers and laid them in front of several candles. Then he walked out to the boat launch area and tossed three red flowers into the ocean.