NewsLocal News


Dive teams continue search for missing passengers of Conception dive boat

Posted at 7:52 AM, Sep 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-03 22:42:25-04

UPDATE (3:25 p.m.) - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is taking the lead on the investigation into the deadly Conception dive boat fire.

An NTSB representative said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon that its investigators expect to be on scene for the next 7 to 10 days.

NTSB investigators arrived on scene Tuesday morning and were briefed by the Coast Guard.

They will not be determining the cause of the fire while on scene but will provide factual information as it becomes available, the representative said. She said it could take 12 to 24 months for a final report but a preliminary report could be released as soon as 10 days following the on-scene investigation.

UPDATE (12:04 p.m.) - The initial critical moments of the deadly fire that engulfed a dive boat off Southern California are still under investigation.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Tuesday there were apparently several mayday radio calls before dawn Monday.

Brown says the first call may have come from the burning vessel Conception, on which 34 people in below-deck accommodations are believed to have died.

He says subsequent calls may have come from a nearby boat that picked up five crew members who survived.

In one radio exchange, a Coast Guard radio communicator asked if people were locked inside the boat and whether the person could get back aboard the Conception and unlock doors. The replies to those questions are not on the recording.

Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester says there are no door locks in berthing spaces on such vessels.

Rochester says she interviewed the radio communicator and says he was actually trying to ask for information during a confusing situation.

Authorities say crew members who escaped from the boat have submitted written statements to officials.

Sheriff Brown declined to disclose details of what they said because the investigation is ongoing. Brown also says the surviving crew members will be interviewed on Tuesday.

He says there's no indication that the fire was preceded by an explosion.

Brown says explosions a witness on another boat reported happened after the fire was underway and could have been scuba or propane tanks exploding.

A search for survivors has been suspended.

UPDATE (10:15 a.m.) - At a press conference Tuesday morning, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the bodies of 20 victims have been recovered from the wreckage of the Conception dive boat.

Of those victims, 11 are female and 9 are male.

Brown said divers spotted an additional 4-6 victims during their search on Monday but were unable to recover those bodies before nightfall.

He said dive teams would continue to work to recover more victims and evidence on Tuesday. Brown said crews were working in up to 65 feet of water.

The coroner's office is reportedly receiving mutual aid from Los Angeles County and the state Department of Justice and will be using a rapid DNA analysis tool to identify the victims. The same tool was used to identify victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise last year.

The Coast Guard says it has suspended search efforts due to no additional evidence of any survivors in the area. Officials say crews searched a 160-mile area around Santa Cruz Island.

The Conception caught fire and sank early Monday morning. Officials say 33 passengers and six crew members were on board the 75-foot boat for a Labor Day weekend dive trip. The 39 passengers and crew had departed Santa Barbara's Channel Islands Harbor on Saturday and were due to return Monday evening.

UPDATE (8:20 a.m.) - Authorities say divers are working in pairs at the site where a diving boat sank near Santa Cruz island after it was engulfed in flames.

Commander Jay Donovan of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that the divers from multiple law enforcement agencies are using their hands because of limited visibility and search in grids as they look for nine people who are still missing. Officials have confirmed that 25 people died.

There were 39 people aboard the Conception when it caught fire before dawn Monday as recreational scuba divers slept in bunks below deck.

Five of the boat's six crew members escaped and used a dinghy to get to a nearby boat.

Authorities on the South Coast say dive teams and other search crews searched all night and into Tuesday morning for the people still missing following Monday's deadly dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island.

Before dawn Monday, the Conception somehow caught fire as dozens of passengers were sleeping below deck with only one narrow stairway out.

Officials say 33 passengers and six crew members were on board the 75-foot boat for a Labor Day weekend dive trip. The 39 passengers and crew had departed Santa Barbara's Channel Islands Harbor on Saturday and were due to return Monday evening.

Five crew members sleeping on the boat's top deck jumped off and took a dinghy to safety on a Madera couple's boat that happened to be nearby.

Santa Barbara City Fire Department spokeswoman Amber Anderson tells the Associated Press that fog and low clouds Tuesday morning are not expected to limit the search crews in their efforts.

Anderson says several families have visited an assistance center set up at Earl Warren Showgrounds for relatives of people who were aboard the boat.

As of Monday night, authorities had confirmed the deaths of 25 people.

Authorities are searching for the nine people who remain missing.

None of their names have been released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner's Office but Brett Harmeling tells news outlets his sister was on board the Conception leading the scuba-diving trip and fears she is among the dead.

A growing memorial has been established at the Santa Barbara Harbor where the Conception would normally be docked.

The vessel currently sits on the ocean floor, inverted some 60-feet below the surface, making it difficult for divers to access any victims who may be trapped inside.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is expected to release new information about the search for victims and the investigation into what happening during a press conference Tuesday morning. KSBY will have live coverage of the press conference at 10 a.m.