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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate a devastating Labor Day fire aboard the Conception dive boat that tragically killed 34 people off the coast of California early Monday morning.

According to media reports, members of the board have already toured a sister ship of the Conception and interviewed the only five crew members to escape the inferno alive. The investigative team has also met with the families of all those who died in one of the worst maritime tragedies in California history.

“I can’t imagine what the families are going through right now,” board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “It is horrific and they are devastated.”

Conception Dive Boat Fire Began as Passengers Slept Below Deck

The Conception, a 75-foot vessel owned by Truth Aquatics and chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures for a three-day excursion to the Channel Islands, was moored in Platt’s Harbor and just 20 yards from Santa Cruz Island when it erupted in flames shortly after 3:00 a.m. on September 2nd.  

All 33 passengers and one crew member were asleep in a single cabin at the time, and all apparently became trapped below deck.

The five crew members who survived the disaster were topside and managed to escape in a dinghy before being rescued by a nearby private fishing boat. Although two returned to the water, they were unable to locate any other survivors.

Where the NTSB Investigation Stands

Several members of the 16-person NTSB investigative team spent Wednesday interviewing the remaining crew, including the captain of the Conception dive boat. While Homendy declined to provide details of the interviews, she noted that none of the survivors tested positive for alcohol. Results from drug testing are still pending.

Homendy and other investigators toured the Vision, a slightly larger ship owned by Truth Aquatics that shares a layout similar to the Conception. Each vessel has a single cabin with bunks stacked two and three high. A wooden staircase leading to the galley and an escape hatch above one of the beds are the only exits from the cabin.

Investigators suspect that the fast-moving flames blocked both routes of escape Monday morning. During her remarks, Homendy also suggested that the darkness and small size of the escape hatch might have impeded those attempting to flee the Conception dive boat fire.

“You have to climb up a ladder and across the top bunk and then push a wooden door up,” she said. “It was a tight space. We couldn’t turn the light on.”

DNA Analysis Will Identify Victims of California Dive Boat Fire

Divers have recovered the remains of 33 people who died aboard the Conception dive boat. One remains missing and is presumed dead. According to media reports, the bodies are badly burned and will be identified through DNA analysis.

Victims of the horrific fire ranged from teenagers as young as 17 to adults in their 60s. Those onboard Monday morning included a family of five, a teacher and his daughter, and a diving instructor and marine biologist identified as the co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures.

Two of the teenagers killed in the blaze attended the same Santa Cruz public charter school.

NTSB Investigation Could Take 18 Months

So far, it’s not clear what caused the Conception dive boat fire; however, some have speculated that cell phone chargers or lithium batteries might have triggered the blaze.

Homendy promised the NTSB’s investigation would be “very lengthy, detailed, and comprehensive.” While the board will issue preliminary findings in approximately 10 days, it could take investigators up to 18 months to complete a final report.

Truth Aquatics, a well-respected company that’s operated out of Santa Barbara Harbor since 1974, announced yesterday that it would suspend all diving tours until the investigation into Monday’s tragedy concludes.

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