Crew Slept As Deadly Fire Broke Out On Boat, Feds Say

Attorney Disputes Findings Of Preliminary Report

KCBS Radio Afternoon News
September 12, 2019 - 3:22 pm
In this handout provided by Ventura County Fire Department, the 75-foot Conception, based in Santa Barbara Harbor, burns after catching fire early September 2, 2019 anchored off Santa Cruz Island, California.

Ventura County Fire Department via Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board says all six crew members were asleep when a fire broke out in a scuba diving boat off the coast of Santa Barbara, killing 33 passengers and one crew member over Labor Day weekend.

The NTSB released its preliminary report on the deadly incident aboard the Conception on Thursday.

Survivors told investigators that five crew members were asleep in berths beneath the boat’s wheelhouse on the ship’s top level, and one was asleep in the passenger berthing area within the hull on the night of the fire.

One crew member in the wheelhouse berth woke up and saw the fire, alerting the rest of the crew, investigators said. 

The report says the captain radioed a distress signal to the U.S. Coast Guard and other crew members tried to get into the area where the passengers were sleeping but were overwhelmed by smoke.

Related: More Victims Identified From Scuba Trip Inferno

The crew eventually launched a small skiff and found another boat anchored nearby, where they continued to radio for help until the Coast Guard and firefighters arrived. The five crew members who escaped the boat are the only survivors of the fire.

Attorney Douglas Schwartz, who represents the boat's owner Truth Aquatics, disputes the NTSB’s report, saying a crew member "checked on and around the galley area" around 2:30 a.m. Officials have said the first distress call was transmitted at 3:14 a.m.

Boats like the Conception are required to have a crew member keep watch at night. Federal authorities are conducting a criminal investigation into the fire.

The report comes a day after divers recovered the remains of the last missing victim, one of dozens who were trapped below deck.