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NTSB: All Dive Boat Crewmembers Asleep When Fire Began Aboard Doomed Ship

(CBS SF/AP) -- A preliminary report into the dive boat disaster off the Southern California coast earlier this month says all six crewmembers were asleep when fire broke out aboard the vessel.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Thursday released a two-page preliminary report which indicated there was no night watchman on duty on the Conception at the time the fire started Sept. 2, killing 34 people in the worst maritime disaster in modern California history.

According to the report: "At the time of the fire, five crewmembers were asleep in berths behind the wheelhouse, and oe crewmember was asleep in the bunkroom, which was accessed from the salon down a ladderwell in the forward, starboard corner of the compartment."

Boats like the Conception are required to have a crewmember keep watch at night. The FBI, Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles are conducting a criminal investigation into the deadly fire off the coast of Santa Barbara and could bring charges under a statute known as seaman's manslaughter.

The law predates the Civil War and was enacted to punish negligent captains, engineers and pilots for deadly steamboat accidents that killed thousands.

The victims on the Conception ranged from a girl celebrating her 17th birthday with her parents and a friend, to a 26-year-old crewmember who was thrilled by her recent promotion to deckhand. Others included the marine biologist who led the three-day tour and couples who shared a love of the water.

Coast Guard records show the Conception passed its two most recent inspections with no safety violations. Previous customers said the company that owns the vessel, Truth Aquatics, and the captains of its three boats, were very safety conscious. An attorney for Truth Aquatics did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on the NTSB preliminary report.

Truth Aquatics Inc. filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to limit its liability.

The report comes a day after divers recovered the remains of the last missing victim, one of dozens who were trapped below deck. All 34 victims — 21 women and 13 men ranging from 16 to 62 years old — apparently died of smoke inhalation as they were trapped below the raging fire. Most of those aboard were from the San Francisco Bay Area and Santa Cruz area.

The names of all the victims were released Thursday by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office:

Carol Diana Adamic, 60, Santa Cruz
Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, Santa Cruz
Juha Pekka Ahopelto, 50, Sunnyvale
Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, Phoenix, Arizona
Patricia Ann Beitzinger, 48, Chandler, Arizona
Vaidehi Campbell, 41, Felton
Kendra Chan, 26, Oxnard
Raymond Scott Chan, 59, Los Altos
Adrian Dahood-Fritz, 40, Sacramento
Sanjeeri Deopujari, 31, Stamford, Conn.
Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, Anaheim
Berenice Felipe, 16, Santa Cruz
Lisa Fiedler, 52, Mill Valley
Kristina "Kristy" Finstad, 41, Santa Cruz
Andrew Fritz, 40, Sacramento
Daniel Garcia, 46, Berkeley
Marybeth Guiney, 51, Santa Monica
Yuko Hatano, 39, San Jose
Yulia Krashennaya, 40, of Berkeley
Alexandra Kurtz, 25, Santa Barbara
Xiang Lin, 45, Fremont
Charles McIlvain, 44, Santa Monica
Caroline McLaughlin, 35, Oakland
Kaustubh Nirmal, 33, Stamford, Conn.
Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, Stockton
Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, Stockton
Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, Imperial Beach
Michael Quitasol, 62, Stockton
Steven Salika, 55, Santa Cruz
Sunil Sandhu, 45, Half Moon Bay
Fernisa Sison, 57, Stockton
Ted Strom, 62, Germantown, Tennessee
Kristian Takvam, 34, San Francisco
Wei Tan, 26, Goleta

A salvage crew on Thursday raised the Conception from the water near Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara.

The Coast Guard has released additional safety recommendations in the wake of the Sept. 2 tragedy, such as limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.

James Hall, a former NTSB chairman, told The Associated Press a preliminary report is generally a summary of the early findings that relies on interviews, inspection documents and other records and a review of current maritime rules and regulations.


© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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