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Man who lost five family members in California boat fire: "You don't want to believe it"

Man loses 5 family members in Calif. boat fire
Man who lost 5 family members in California boat fire: "You don't want to believe it" 02:57

The Coast Guard has suspended its search for survivors following a deadly boat fire off the coast of California. That news is particularly harrowing for Domenic Selga, who lost five members of his family when the ship went up in flames.

"You don't want to believe it. You want to hold onto that 1%. But at this point, my heart knows," Selga said.

Selga said his mother, step-father, and three step-sisters were among the 34 presumed dead aboard the dive boat Conception, which burst into flames and sank off the Santa Barbara coast early Monday morning.

"They were down there in those small bunks, those really small bunks … to have no escape … It was something that was playing in my head," Selga said. "It was just a complete nightmare."
On Tuesday, rescuers continued efforts to recover the bodies of those trapped below deck. The FBI visited a sister ship owned by the same tour company with a similar layout as  Conception.

Cherie McDonough said her 25-year-old daughter was onboard.

"Never thought I would have to go through this," she said. "She was just following her dreams. She loved it here and she loved the boat. She loved diving." 

Also among the passengers was experienced diver Kristy Finstad. The 41-year-old was on the ship to lead a scuba tour.

The boat's wreckage now rests upside down on the ocean floor. "Divers will also map the search area … which is about a half mile in size in our continuing efforts to recover additional victims and evidence," said Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown.

Meanwhile, family members are being asked to provide DNA to help identify the victims.

"There was an extraordinarily hot fire," Brown said. "And the bodies do exhibit signs of extreme thermal damage." 

Selga just wants answers for his family. "If there was one thing I could say to my mom, 'I love you,' and that's it," he said through tears. 

Selga's family was on the trip to celebrate his step-father's birthday. He would've turned 61 on Wednesday. The National Transportation Safety Board's final report on the case could take months – but the board said that it's 100% confident it will be able to determine how the fire started.

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