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.