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Crews raise boat that sank after deadly fire

34 people on the Conception died in the Labor Day fire
Posted at 11:17 AM, Sep 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-12 21:23:13-04

UPDATE (1:40 p.m.) - A salvage crew has raised the scuba diving boat that sank after a fire that killed 34 people off Santa Cruz Island last week.

A crane on a barge lifted the Conception to the surface of the water on Thursday. The boat will be taken ashore for inspection by investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report saying all six crew members were asleep when the blaze broke out Sept. 2.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss says only three members of the crew were interviewed before the Coast Guard asked the agency to postpone the remaining two interviews pending further investigation. One crewmember died in the fire.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office plans an afternoon news conference to discuss the progress of identifying the victims. KSBY News will air that press conference live starting at 3 p.m.

(11:17 a.m.) - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report Thursday on the Conception boat fire that killed 34 people off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Labor Day.

The two-page report does not give insight into what may have caused the 75-foot diving vessel to go up in flames, trapping all 33 passengers and one crew member below deck. Five crew members above deck were able to jump off the boat and get help.

The report does, however, describe what happened when the fire broke out. It says all of the crew members were asleep at the time. One was awakened by a noise and when he got up, he saw a fire at the aft end of the sun deck. He alerted the other crew members, and the captain reportedly radioed a distress message to the Coast Guard.

The report goes on to describe how the crew members tried to access the passengers who were sleeping below deck but were blocked by fire. The crew took a skiff to a nearby recreational vessel where the captain continued to radio for help. Meanwhile, two other crew members returned to the Conception to search for survivors.

According to the NTSB report, initial interviews of three crew members revealed that no mechanical or electrical issues were reported.

To read the full report, click here.

The NTSB told the Associated Press its preliminary reports are generally a summary of the early findings that relies on interviews, inspection documents and other records and a review of current maritime rules and regulations.

The full report isn’t expected to be completed for 1-2 years.

The Coast Guard has said additional safety recommendations issued in the days following the boat fire include limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.

While the Coast Guard has convened a formal Marine Board of Investigation, the highest-level marine casualty investigation in the Coast Guard, the agency is also conducting a criminal probe with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Salvage operations for the sunken vessel resumed Wednesday, the same day the 34th and final body was recovered. The identities of 27 people have been released so far and the other seven are expected to be released sometime this week.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said it’s believed all the victims, 21 women and 13 men, ranging in age from 16- to 62-years-old, died of smoke inhalation.

Rep. Salud Carbajal issued a statement in response to the report, saying, "While our community is finally starting to get answers through this NTSB report, we still have a lot of questions that are unanswered. I am grateful for the responsiveness of the NTSB and for their continued work to investigate this tragedy. As NTSB works toward preparing a full report, my office will continue to lend our support and assist in this process in any way that we can. I hold the 34 people who were lost to the Conception boat fire in my heart, and I hope these answers begin to bring closure to their loved ones."