Ventura County

25 victims located, 9 remain missing after boat fire near Santa Cruz Island

Additional victims on ocean floor

Labor Day Boat Fire 5p

The bodies of 25 people killed in a Santa Barbara-based diving boat fire have been located according to the United States Coast Guard and the Associated Press.

Additional bodies were spotted in the wreckage and about nine people are unaccounted for following the fire and sinking of the Conception.

The fire broke out onboard the Santa Barbara boat Conception on the north side of Santa Cruz Island around 3:15 a.m. 39 people were listed on the boat's manifest. 34 people were immediately unaccounted for, according to the United States Coast Guard. 

Four bodies were recovered from the water and search crews located four bodies on the ocean floor near the overturned boat.  Efforts continue to look for survivors or additional bodies. Four of the bodies discovered were taken by boat to the Santa Barbara Harbor Coast Guard department.

Those bodies will need to be identified by DNA, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. 

Flight restrictions were in place around the search area. The Coast Guard continued their search efforts throughout the evening.

By 9:45 p.m. Monday, 25 of the 34 people who were unaccounted had been located. 

The Fire

The Coast Guard and Ventura County Fire Department responded to the fire early Monday morning. 

The fire broke out aboard the boat at around 3:15 a.m. on the north side of the island, near Platts Harbor. 

In morning tweets, the Coast Guard reported "multiple assets" were sent to the boat, which is used by divers who explore in the ocean waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. 

Ventura County Fire tweeted photos that show the boat fully engulfed in flames.  

A mayday call was sent out by a member of the crew. The short radio transmission describes the condition on the boat and the reporting party tells the Coast Guard he cannot breathe. Immediately after receiving the mayday call, the Coast Guard hurried to deploy units to the fire.

When the Coast Guard and firefighters showed up on scene, they found the boat engulfed in flames. Sounds of explosions could be heard as they put out the flames.

The ship ultimately sank about 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water, around 7 a.m.

The Rescue

Five people were rescued from the boat aboard a Good Samaritan boat Grape Escape. All five were reported to be member's of the boat's crew. One crew member is among the missing.

The owner of Grape Escape said he was awakened by the sound of someone beating on his boat. When he arose, he discovered the crew members clinging to a rubber dingy. 

According to the Coast Guard, the rescued crew members were awake on the top deck of the boat and able to escape when the fire broke out. Someone on the crew was able to send a mayday call but were forced to jump off the boat to escape the fire. The Coast Guard reported one of those crew members suffered a broken leg.

The four recovered bodies, the four located on the ocean floor, and the others still missing are believed to have been sleeping below the deck, according to US Coast Guard Los Angeles Long Beach Sector Commander Captain Monica Rochester. One of those missing is a sixth member of the crew.

The Boat

The owner of the 75-foot Conception arrived to brief Coast Guard officials at the Channel Islands Harbor Monday morning. Glen Fritzler, was not able to provide many details publicly as he arrived at the Coast Guard facility.

His boat is well-known among members of the Santa Barbara Harbor community, and the California diving community at large.

Fritzler has cooperated with the investigation, according to the Coast Guard.

Conception was licensed and approved to be in the area, according to the National Parks Service. 

Coast Guard records show inspections conducted last February and in August 2018 found no deficiencies. Earlier inspections found some violations related to fire safety.

A 2016 inspection resulted in owner replacing the heat detector in the galley and one in 2014 cited a leaky fire hose. Records show all safety violations from the last five years were quickly addressed by the boat's owner.

Conception, which is operated by Truth Aquatics, was in the middle of a multi-day tour, having departed from Santa Barbara Harbor on Saturday. The tour was advertised as a Labor Day weekend dive trip.

The layout of the boat shows bunks stacked three-high in the lower deck sleeping quarters and one staircase which leads to the galley and upper deck. 

The Red Cross established a family assistance center at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. Trained mental health and spiritual care volunteers were onsite. Family members can call 833-688-5551 for information.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office will be leading the investigation.

A 4 p.m. press conference will be the last briefing until another planned on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. 


Watch the Tuesday 10 a.m. press conference:


Recommended Stories

Top Local Stories