Last Updated Sep 7, 2019 11:27 AM EDT
Santa Barbara, California — The owner of a dive boat that caught fire and sank near Santa Barbara this week, killing 34, spoke out about the disaster Friday and he's defending the actions of his crew.
Speaking for the first time, Glen Fritzler, the owner of the, said that as the fire raged on the boat's second level, his crew tried to save the passengers trapped below. He claims the captain stayed until the very last moment.
"They said that they could see Jerry jump from the upper deck and that there was a trail of smoke following him. They thought he was on fire," Fritzler said.
In interviews with the National Transportation Safety Board, surviving crew members claimed smoke alarms on Conception never went off. "It's not hooked up into the wiring, into the system that notifies the bridge there's a problem," said NSTB board member Jennifer Homendy.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown now says it appears the 34 people died of smoke inhalation before the fire reached their sleeping quarters. Investigators are also looking into whether the crew was asleep when the fire started. The boat is required to have a roaming night watchman.
A team of fire specialists with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is now part of the investigation. "We are looking to determine what happened. A criminal element to that is always a possibility. But at this point no one has been charged criminally," Brown said.
Painstaking salvage operations are underway to recover the burnt remains of the boat from 65 feet of water. Divers also hope to locate the one body unaccounted for.
The grief remains overwhelming for those left behind. Vicki Moore lost her partner, Scott Chan, a high school physics teacher, and her 26-year-old daughter Kendra, a wildlife biologist.
"Both of them shared a passion for the natural word and this intense curiosity. I'm grateful for all the time I had with her and just wish there was more," Moore said.
The victims range in age from their teens to their 60's and came from across California and around the world, as far away as Singapore and India. Many had been on the boat before. The process to raise the boat is complicated and slow going. It could take days or even weeks.
Correction: This article has been updated to indicate that no one has been charged in the investigation.