NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire title=
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire
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Conception boat on fire in the early morning hours of September 2 (Photo: Mike Eliason / SBCFD)

By edhat staff

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its preliminary report on the Conception dive boat fire that killed 34 people on Labor Day, September 2. 

The boat was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures for a three-day scuba diving excursion off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. It caught fire in the early morning hours and killed 33 passengers and 1 crew member sleeping below the boat. Five other crew members on another part of the boat survived. 

NTSB arrived on scene the day of the incident and announced they would be the leading the safety investigation. During a press conference outside the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy stated their mission is to determine how this happened, why it happened, and to implement safety improvements to prevent this from happening again.

Jennifer Homendy and Adam Tucker answering questions outside Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office (Photo: Daniel Bertucelli)

At 11:00 a.m. Thursday, NTSB released its preliminary report stating its subject to change and may contain errors and could be supplemented or corrected during the course of the investigation.

It's NTSB standard protocol for a preliminary report to be released 10 days after the incident. However, the final report which will contain the cause of the fire, will take 12-18 months to be completed and released.

The report states the US Coast Guard received a distress call from the 75-foot commercial diving vessel Conception at 3:14 a.m., September 2 and crew members stated no mechanical or electrical issues were reported. 

"At the time of the fire, five crewmembers were asleep in berths behind the wheelhouse, and one crewmember was asleep in the bunkroom, which was accessed from the salon down a ladderwell in the forward, starboard corner of the compartment. The bunkroom had an emergency escape hatch located on the aft end, which also exited to the salon. There were two, locally-sounding smoke detectors in the overhead of the bunkroom," the report states.

The report does not address a roving night watch, a crew member who is required by the US Coast Guard to stay awake throughout the night in case of emergencies. However, the report does confirm that all 6 crew members were asleep at the time of the fire.

Photo: Truth Aquatics

"A crewmember sleeping in the wheelhouse berths was awakened by a noise and got up to investigate. He saw a fire at the aft end of the sun deck, rising up from the salon compartment below. The crewmember alerted the crew behind the wheelhouse. As crewmembers awoke, the captain radioed a distress message to the Coast Guard."

The report clarifies the wood and fiberglass vessel built in 1981 had three levels: the uppermost sun deck containing the wheelhouse and crew rooms, the main deck including the salon and galley, and the lower deck within the hull containing the passenger berthing or bunkrooms as well as a shower room, engine room, and tanks.

"The crewmembers attempted to access the salon and passengers below. Unable to use the aft ladder, which was on fire, the crewmembers jumped down to the main deck (one crewmember broke his leg in the process) and tried to access the salon and galley compartment, which was fully engulfed by fire at the aft end and by thick smoke in the forward end, through a forward window. Unable to open the window and overwhelmed by smoke, the crew jumped overboard," the report states.

Two crewmembers and the captain then swam to the stern, reboarded the vessel, opened the hatch of the engine room, and reportedly saw no fire. Crewmembers state access to the salon through the aft doors was blocked by fire, so they launched a small skiff and picked up the remaining two crewmembers in the water.

They then steered to an anchored nearby vessel, Grape Escape, where the captain continued to radio for help, while two crewmembers returned to the Conception to search for survivors around the burning hull.

Local Coast Guard and fire departments arrived on scene to extinguish the fire and conduct search and rescue. The vessel burned to the waterline by morning and subsequently sank in about 60 feet of water, according to the report. 

NTSB and FBI investigators have collected documents from recent Coast Guard inspections and visited another Truth Aquatics vessel, Vision, a vessel similar to the Conception. Salvage operations to bring the wreckage to the surface for examination and documentation resumed on Tuesday.

"Investigators plan to examine current regulations regarding vessels of this type, year of build, and operation; early-warning and smoke-detection and alarm systems; evacuation routes; training; and current company policies and procedures. Efforts continue to determine the source of the fire," the report states.

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Coolio Sep 13, 2019 09:54 AM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

I'm sure the Captain and his crew had done hundreds of overnight trips to the islands without a hitch. Either a crew member assigned for night watch was sleeping or the Captain felt it wasn't really that necessary to have a roving night watchman after a long day on the water.

a-1568389343 Sep 13, 2019 08:42 AM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

The landscape down at sea landing has now forever changed. I think it will take a long time to fill the void left behind by conception. Something so familiar, like the twin towers is now a hole in the sky.

a-1568388507 Sep 13, 2019 08:28 AM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

Does the County have any obligation or liability to maintain emergency preparedness and response for water between City and Islands? I noticed islands are in Sup Greg Hart’s District #2. Does County Fire maintain specialized fire fighting safe boats? There are many tourists, cruise ships, and ocean related businesses generating tax revenue. How does County provide emergency services off shore?

tagdes Sep 13, 2019 10:50 AM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

Zone limits from the overview of the California Coastal Protection Council and also those are nautical miles. Bear in mind that Conception sank in Federal waters ( CC Islands Nat'l Park ) and this was a multi-agency assist operation.

mrtrump Sep 12, 2019 11:24 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

Not only did the crew know the dangers of charging lithium ion batteries, they allowed the charging to take place inside the galley/salon and assisted in setting up customers with extension cords and power strips, making the situation more dangerous. The crew then violates federal law by not setting the required watch and going to bed. Total negligence that resulted in death.

CaptainObvious Sep 20, 2019 07:08 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

Aye..! Imagine partipating in that "Powerstrip Sculpture", and that tiny hole of an escape exit.. Every day and never, ever doing anything about it... ever. Imagine thinking to yourself it was in any way at all OK.. . Now imagine living with yourself now.

a-1568399293 Sep 13, 2019 11:28 AM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

MRTRUMP - you "understanding" of negligence is laughable, quit playing lawyer. First of all, helping passengers charge their lithium ion batteries is not a breach of any duty. It doesn't rise to the level of negligence. Second of all..... forget it. I'm not wasting anymore time.

a-1568340084 Sep 12, 2019 07:01 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

IF it's confirmed that all crew was asleep during this tragedy, are all lawsuits off due to the owner of the boat filing his legal papers in court over a week ago? It would seem that it could be grim times in court & for the insurance carrier in the future after the final report is released.

a-1568389237 Sep 13, 2019 08:40 AM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

When is Maritime Law applicable? I’ve heard, if applicable, it changes all including County Taxpayer exposure to liability and/or negligence claims. Sheriff Brown, DA Dudley claimed County jurisdiction (unclear if for entire ocean channel or only 3-miles from land). Much to learn for persons pursuing ocean adventures.

a-1568330087 Sep 12, 2019 04:14 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

I'm reading in other articles there is witness testimony contradicting that everyone was asleep. From the LA Times; "Schwartz (attorney representing Truth Aquatics), however, disputes the NTSB assertion that the entire crew was asleep when the fire broke out. Schwartz told CNN he has “witness testimony that seems to contradict the notion that the entire crew was asleep.”

a-1568329717 Sep 12, 2019 04:08 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

I've seen numerous accusations by social media warriors about the crew jumping off the boat without trying to help the passengers - and simply leaving the boat without trying to fight the fire. Many morons on the Truth Aquatics Facebook page leaving their nonsense conspiracy theories. This is a testament that all of that nonsense was not true. Mistakes were made and will be learned from, but there is no doubt that the crew tried desperately to access those passengers.

Factotum Sep 12, 2019 03:02 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

Recommend while everyone is waiting to get the final report on this horrific accident to explore the videos and various explanations online demonstrating what can happen to lithium batteries. Particularly during the charging stage and/or contact of exposed lithium and water. Are people carrying small incendiary bombs in their back pockets or when left alone in their chargers? Sobering. Don't try this at home.

a-1568322844 Sep 12, 2019 02:14 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

For those still wondering if an explosion took place... none of the crew members reported an explosion. If there was one, they would have stated hearing that and all would have likely woke up or been jolted awake. The crew member who woke up only reported hearing a noise and investigated to see everything full engulfed, suggesting this was a small fire that spread.

a-1568343786 Sep 12, 2019 08:03 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

@THEREALBEBE, sure, but the crew not reporting hearing an explosion does not mean there wasn't one. Just like the Grape Escape reporting explosions doesn't mean that started the fire. We just don't know either way at this point.

a-1568318636 Sep 12, 2019 01:03 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

Boat plan shows the way a fire in the bunk room could block access from above (see link below), as indicated in today's report. There was some prior mention of future regulations to reduce risks of a lithium battery malfunction. On a dive excursion there would be many such batteries charging overnight. The question that haunts me is what the noise was, that woke a crew member two levels up in the wheelhouse berths.

Shasta Guy Sep 12, 2019 12:41 PM
NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Conception Dive Boat Fire

A roving watch likely would have made a difference. If the fire was spotted in the galley it might have been kept in check long enough with a fire extinguisher to wake up the passengers and get them out before their escape route was impassible. The rest of the crew could have been woken up to assist. There’s nothing changing what happened. All crew will carry this horrible event with them the rest of their lives.


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