34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

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Photo: Ventura County Fire Department

Update by edhat staff
12:00 p.m., September 3, 2019
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and U.S. Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester reported Tuesday morning they do not expect to find survivors as the Coast Guard suspended searches.
Read the latest update on the suspended search here. For all other updates and additional information on the Conception boat fire, click here.

Update by edhat staff
10:10 p.m., September 2, 2019

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr Matthew Kroll confirmed Monday evening that 25 bodies have been discovered with 9 still missing, reports the Associated Press.

Four bodies were recovered earlier in the day with injuries consistent with drowning, according to Kroll. Sixteen other bodies were pulled from the water later that day with five more found on the ocean floor that are unable to be recovered due to unsafe conditions under the boat.

It's unknown at this time when the nine bodies will be recovered. Searches are expected to continue throughout the evening and early morning.

Update by edhat staff
4:30 p.m., September 2, 2019
A press conference was held at 4:00 p.m. to provide the community with updates on the Conception boat fire and its victims. The next press conference is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Below is updated information:

Initial Response

At approximately 3:30 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call via channel 16 of an engulfed 75-foot commercial diving vessel with 39 people aboard.

Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded. The fire department crews were fighting the fire when the vessel sank 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water around 7:20 a.m.

Those onboard Conception were part of a scheduled 3-day trip that departed on August 31st. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown reported the boat was scheduled to return to the Santa Barbara on Tuesday morning, however other reports and an online itinerary state the boat was scheduled to return on Monday at 5:00 p.m. The boat is owned by Truth Aquatics and has been operational since 1974.

Sheriff Brown stated there were no initial reports of an explosion and the mayday call confirmed the fire was fully underway.

Photo: US Coast Guard

Victims and Survivors

Conception had 39 people on board, 6 crew members and 33 passengers.

Five people, all crew members, were rescued from the water during the initial response to the incident.

Four bodies were recovered and taken to the Coroner. They can only be identified as two adult males and two adult females, ages unknown. Sheriff Brown stated DNA may be needed to properly identify these victims, which will take time.

Four more bodies were spotted by divers on the ocean floor in close proximity of the boat. Dive teams are attempting the recovery of their bodies.

There are 26 people still unaccounted for. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff - Coroner's Office will release information regarding victims as it becomes available pending next of kin notifications. They do have a list of passengers.

Sheriff Brown stated all passengers are from Southern California or beyond, appear to be diving enthusiasts, and is a mix of men, women, crew, and passengers. Brown also confirmed it does not appear that everyone knew one another.

Rescue and Recovery Operations

The Coast Guard is actively searching for additional people. The Coast Guard is scheduled to continue their search efforts throughout the night.

A 3,000-foot temporary flight restriction has been established around the Conception as well as a safety zone of 1 mile on the water so other vessels cannot go near the area.

"We should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome," said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester.

Rochester also reported usually there is an emergency escape hatch from the bottom sleeping quarters to the main deck in this type of vessel. 

Conception is reported to have a one-foot portion of the bow sticking out of the water and is currently inverted in 60-62 feet of water with tides moving it around. 

Agencies are discussing if it's possible to tow the boat but have not made a final determination.

Watchstanders launched two Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crews, a Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco Forward Operating Base Mugu Dolphin MH-65 helicopter crew, a Coast Guard Air Station San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and the Coast Guard Cutter Narwhal. 

A Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, a Forward Operating Base Mugu MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are on scene.

Investigative Agencies

A joint investigation is being conducted between local, state, and federal agencies that all have jurisdiction, said Sheriff Brown.

The Sheriff's Office will serve as Coroner with help from outside agencies, disaster and emergency response is on scene from a state level, and federal agencies from NTSB, FBI, and Coast Guard are also involved.

"Our primary concerns are victims and loved ones," said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley. Santa Barbara County shares legal jurisdiction with the U.S. Attorney's Office, both will be monitoring the investigation.

The crew was interviewed by Sheriff's Office and U.S. Coast Guard, but information surrounding these interviews have not been released.

Captain Rochester from the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed annual inspections show Conception was in full compliance.

Family Assitance Center

A Family Assistance Center has been set up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara in Warren Hall. Family, friends, and loved ones of those affected by this incident will be able to receive information, support, resources, and mental health counseling. Members of local clergy, Chaplains, Hospice, Red Cross, emergency personnel, and more will be able to provide services.

It will be open until 9:00 p.m. Monday and will reopen on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. The center will remain open until Thursday or as long as it's needed. Additionally, a family assistance number has been established at (833) 688-5551 or (800) 400-1572.​

Update by edhat staff
2:00 p.m., September 2, 2019

Four bodies have been recovered from the fire aboard the 75-foot diving boat Conception that took place early Monday morning.

Five crew members were rescued and there are still 30 people missing. The U.S. Coast Guard is continuing to search for survivors or additional bodies.

It's suspected that an organization named "Worldwide Diving Adventures" had chartered Conception for a tour of the Northern Channel Islands during Labor Day weekend. The company's business address is based out of Twin Bridges, CA and charges $665 for the weekend excursion. The event website encouraged all divers to purchase Divers Alert Network Dive Accident Insurance.

Audio from the Conception mayday call answered by a Los Angeles Coast Guard dispatcher provides little insight into what happened on the boat, according to CNN. The dispatcher questioned the crew member who made the call about whether passengers were locked onboard the vessel.

The dispatcher can also be heard asking if they could back onboard and unlock the boat, if there was an escape hatch for any of the people onboard, and if there was firefighting equipment onboad.

"You don’t have any firefighting gear at all? No fire extinguishers or anything?” the Coast Guard dispatcher asked according to audio on Broadcastify.  The crewmember’s responses are inaudible.

The five crew members were all reportedly awake on the deck and jumped off the boat to safety where they were rescued by a Good Samaritan, Grape Escape.

The owner of Grape Escape was apparently awoken by the sound of someone beating on his boat and found the crew members near a rubber dingy. 

A Family Assistance Center has been set up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara for family and friends of those on board. Anyone who needs more information can contact SB County OEM at805-696-1188.

A press conference is scheduled to take place at 4:00 p.m. where additional details will be added to this article.

(Photo: Mike Eliason / SBCFD)

Update by edhat staff
9:15 a.m., September 2, 2019

The U.S. Coast Guard stated in a press conference 34 people are missing or unaccounted as search and rescue recovery efforts are currently underway.

There was a total of 39 people on board with 34 people sleeping below deck and 5 crew members. The Coast Guard confirmed the five crew members were awake at the time of the fire and jumped from the boat before being rescued by a Good Samaritan vessel named Grape Escape. 

The Coast Guard confirmed the Conception boat was anchored 20 yards off Platt's Harbor on the northside of Santa Cruz island. The shoreline of the island is being searched for any survivors.

The Coast Guard confirmed the Conception vessel was in full safety compliance and the owner/operator is on scene planning for further assistance.

Presently the Coast Guard has full efforts in a response phase, also known as search and rescue. There is no additional information of rescue divers in the water. The Coast Guard also did not confirm an explosion but only stated a mayday call was received about the vessel being engulfed in flames.

A family assistance center is being set up with Santa Barbara County services.

Update by edhat staff
8:30 a.m., September 2, 2019

The 75-foot commercial diving vessel Conception has now sunk 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water while firefighters were tackling the blaze, reports the U.S. Coast Guard.

Five people were evacuated aboard a good Samaritan pleasure craft Great Escape. Two of those rescued have leg injuries. Currently, 33 people aboard the vessel are unaccounted for.

Watchstanders launched two Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crews, a Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco Forward Operating Base Mugu Dolphin MH-65 helicopter crew, a Coast Guard Air Station San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and the Coast Guard Cutter Narwhal. 

The vessel currently has a portion of the bow sticking out of the water.

The Conception left Santa Barbara's Harbor on Saturday for a three-day diving trip and was scheduled to return Monday afternoon.

Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath reported there are fatalities aboard, but the numbers are not yet known. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s coroner office is preparing for the possibility of a mass casualty incident.

Foggy weather conditions affected numerous recuse attempts. Rescue officials were on Santa Cruz Island looking for survivors.

The Conception boat has a bunk capacity of 46 people maximum with 13 double bunks and 20 single bunks. The bunks are "open berthing with pillows, blankets, curtains, and reading lights and dressing room is located in bunkroom," according to Truth Aquatics website. A layout of the boat is provided below.

The boat reportedly has rafts and life-jackets for 110 passengers.

Photos: Truth Aquatics

By edhat staff
7:00 a.m., September 2, 2019

A Santa Barbara-based diving boat caught fire early Monday morning off Santa Cruz Island with over 30 people missing.

Multiple fatalities are expected.

The 75’ Conception, was anchored just off the north side Santa Cruz Island when the U.S. Coast Guard and Ventura County Fire Department responded to a reported fire around 3:28 a.m.

Photo: Ventura County Fire Department

The U.S. Coast Guard reported more than 30 people were in distress as the vessel was on fire. A group of crew members has been rescued, one with minor injuries, as the efforts continue to evacuate the remaining passengers.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department reported 5 people were rescued and 34 are missing. According to reports, the 5 crew members were able to escape because they were in the main hull while the 34 passengers were below the deck.

"The report we got was they were trapped by the fire. The fire was so intense that even after it was put out, we're not able to actually embark the vessel and, you know, look for survivors at this point. It's still ongoing," said Coast Guard Senior Chief Aaron Bemis to CNN.

Several photos from these agencies show the popular diving boat that regularly explores the Santa Barbara Channel completely engulfed in flames.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department received a mayday call of a vessel in distress off the Channel Islands at 3:30 a.m. local time but does not have assets involved in the rescue.

Photo: Ventura County Fire Department

Those onboard the Conception were scheduled to meet at the Santa Barbara Harbor on Friday night to board anytime after 8:00 p.m. The online itinerary states it was scheduled to depart at 4:00 a.m. Saturday and then return Monday afternoon around 5:00 p.m., according to Truth Aquatics, the website for the diving company.

However, it's unclear if this was the specific itinerary for this charter as Truth Aquatics owns three boats: Vision, Conception, and Truth.

Photo: Truth Aquatics / Facebook

"On the Labor Day trip, divers have the unique opportunity to explore the pinnacles of San Miguel Island," Truth Aquatics said on its website. "The beginning of September is the best time to be at San Mig, which see strong winds and swell during much of the year." 

The company's website said the crew was using the Conception this weekend to visit San Miguel where divers were expecting to see a variety of interesting sea life.

MarineTraffic.com shows the route the Conception took after leaving Santa Barbara.

More information will be added to this article as soon as it is available.

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Show Comments
Factotum Sep 02, 2019 07:48 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Other reposts state it was on a 3 day charter. A horrific event. Dive boats carry oxygen tanks. This local company has a long and sound history.

Channelfog Sep 02, 2019 08:17 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Is the Conception powered by diesel or gasoline? The latter is potentially dangerous in the enclosed spaces of a hull, if a leak developes or fumes accumulate. Hopefully we will learn exactly how this tragedy unfolded and can avoid similar events in the future. Very sad.

cojo69 Sep 02, 2019 08:48 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

As a member of the commercial fishing community this is a horrific tragedy once again keyt has switched to regular programming instead of remaining on air and keeping our community informed "There when you need us"..........

a-1567440882 Sep 02, 2019 09:14 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

I also find this horrifying but what else are they to do? There is nothing new to report until they pull bodies from the boat, if there are even bodies left. Ugh hurts to think that's the case but it probably is. So horribly awful and sad!

a-1567445060 Sep 02, 2019 10:24 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

KEYT is in dire need of a complete overhaul from top to bottom. They still display outdated images of the news people, play the same, tired music & never seem to desire to change it up and get with the current times of cutting edge news reporting. Ownership must be satisfied with the old look.

cojo69 Sep 02, 2019 08:55 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Not the first time for a major channel disaster. Alaska airlines crash with no survivors. Worked that incident they brought in a special coroner who specialized in vaporized human remains.....gruesome but these people are dedicated to as thorough a recovery process as possible. Prayers to all and once again our first responders are there when we need them

sbsunshine Sep 02, 2019 08:59 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

KEYT is the worst. They were ineffective during Thomas Fire. During the mudslide they put a young reporter in the field who didn't even know how to pronounce the street names and was clueless. They have minimal budget and are not really a fully staffed local channel. This is why most people immediately come here, turn to the scanners, go directly to montecito fire, noozhawk or independent. Those are the real news outlets. And just a note that it was Direct Relief that during Thomas Fire built an interactive map and kept ppl informed. AND it was a Santa Maria station that had the only reporter in the field and stationed. She was absolutely brace and amazing.... a real reporter and her boss/producer was on it with the reporting

StuckOnBathSt Sep 02, 2019 09:13 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Just FYI: KEYT was on the air reporting the story during their early news starting at 5 am this morning. Edhat did not report the story until 8:39 am.

Potif Sep 02, 2019 06:26 PM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

On EDHAT... The first comment I see was at 7:43 AM... before 8:39 AM. And, the time I see on the first report is 7:00 AM. Not 8:39 AM. And, KEYT will rarely cut into regular programming for ANY news event, local, or not. As you said it was during their early news program. If it’s a holiday, they don’t normally have anyone who can ‘give permission’ for the news team to break into regular programming for a news story. Besides only having a skeleton news crew available, anyway.

a-1567440748 Sep 02, 2019 09:12 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

KCAL 9 has been my go to for this, and any other Santa Barbara based disaster.... in addition to channel 9, it live-streams on its website....no interruptions
RIP re this tragedy and all souls lost

a-1567441147 Sep 02, 2019 09:19 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

What about smoke detectors on board? I also thought crew members took turns staying awake at night. This looks really intense. I’m so sorry to all the families who lost loved ones.

a-1567441357 Sep 02, 2019 09:22 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

That would not help much if there was an explosion (dive boat means many many oxygen tanks on board). It takes only seconds to pass out from smoke inhalation, especially in an enclosed space with only one narrow exit.

Channelfog Sep 02, 2019 09:33 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Many, many compressed air cylinders, not O2! (previous post...) Only emergency O2 and not much. Propane gas leak? Forensic analysis of the cause is complicated by the sinking. Hopefully the crew can testify.

tagdes Sep 02, 2019 09:42 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

The Coast Guard did say at the news conference that that they had found no survivors along the coastline or nearby beach just west of Platts Harbor.

a-1567443033 Sep 02, 2019 09:50 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Lucky for us there a multiple news agencies that we can get information from easily so we don't need to fight over which coverage sucks the worst. This is going to be devastating for the central coast community as invariably everyone is going to know someone that is somehow connected to this tragedy. I hope that those that died did so quickly while still asleep with just dreams of their past few days of adventures.

Sundance Sep 02, 2019 10:59 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Exactly. They probably literally passed out from the smoke and never even knew what happened. Love to all who are affected by this awful tragedy

Concerned4Calif Sep 02, 2019 09:52 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Extremely sad. I hope they find some survivors still but it sounds like no one was able to escape from below decks. On a 3 day trip the berthing area would have been full of luggage and personal belonging, and some of the dive gear. The tanks are stored on deck along the railing with slots and straps to secure them.

yacht rocked Sep 02, 2019 09:53 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Resist speculation. Let the facts come out. RIP to those who were lost, and thank you to first responders for a sometimes very tough job.

GeneralTree Sep 02, 2019 10:35 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

And the armchair quarterbacks are already coming out to criticize. What has social media done to people with low IQs in our country. There are already trolls on the truth Facebook page writing BS I'm criticism and making accusations for which there is no proof. People from out of state wanting to make a joke.

Carrotville Sep 02, 2019 01:16 PM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

So very true. Horrible comments are being written on national sites. I hope family members are not reading these. So very sad how people hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard can make such outrageous comments and claims on subjects they know absolutely nothing about. They don’t seem care who they hurt. I wonder how they would feel if this poison was directed at them?

CoastWatch Sep 02, 2019 10:57 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

R.I.P. to all those lost on this tragic accident. Condolences to family, friends and the Truth Aquatics family who have served the diving community so well over the years. Thoughts to the first responders and investigators who will have to deal with the aftermath.

sbrobert Sep 02, 2019 11:52 AM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Oh my. This is just awful to think of how these people died. The Conception has been a part of our community for decades. Just about a month ago we did a similar excursion on the sister boat Truth and slept in those same bunks below the water line. I do hope a clear cause can be discovered and measures can be taken so that this will never happen again.

mrtrump Sep 02, 2019 12:21 PM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

Did this boat use propane for cooking? Reports are the crew was preparing breakfast when the fire started. The crew was quickly overwhelmed by the fire. This boat was diesel powered, so there was no gasoline vapors to ignite. The only exit out of the lower berth areas was through a small, narrow stairway that exited into the galley area. How could such a narrow, limited excape route be allowed? What government agency was responsible for inspecting the boat and its operations?

a-1567468774 Sep 02, 2019 04:59 PM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

MRTRUMP, most ocean-going diving, sportfishing, and other Coast Guard licensed vessels have one, possibly two, small narrow stairwells, usually leading through the galley area. They also have emergency hatches for escape should the stairwell(s) be blocked. That is the nature of these boats, whether they are 50 feet long or 115 feet long. Please don't make ignorant comments about things you seemingly have no knowledge of.

mrtrump Sep 02, 2019 05:20 PM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

During the mayday call, the captian clearly stated that there were no escape hatches. The audio of that mayday call is on youtube.

a-1567457803 Sep 02, 2019 01:56 PM
34 Victims Expected in Conception Boat Fire

No 2nd Exit? Sounds very unsafe and another good reason to avoid boats. - Besides sea sickness. - Such a very tragic outcome for what I imagine was a wonderful vacation for family and/or friends. I just can't imagine the grief to come for family, friends and survivors.


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