Crews on Wednesday have recovered the remains of 33 of the 34 people presumed dead two days after a dive boat carrying 39 people caught fire while anchored off Santa Cruz Island several miles west of Oxnard.
The search for the remaining body continued Wednesday, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office said. Those who were found suffered "varying degrees of damage from the devastating fire, requiring DNA analysis to aid the identification process," the agency said.
The five people who survived were on the upper decks when the blaze ignited just after 3 a.m. Monday, and they were able to jump off the Conception, according to authorities.
The remaining occupants of the boat, however, were asleep in the lower deck and the flames likely blocked their escape routes, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. What caused the fire remained under investigation.
The 75-foot vessel was on a three-day scuba diving trip and was scheduled to return to Santa Barbara Harbor at 5 p.m. later that day, according to the diving company that chartered the boat.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board said crew members were going to be interviewed as authorities probe the cause of the fire.
Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB representative, said the agency is looking at several factors — from diving equipment kept inside the vessel to the layout of the Conception and dive boats like it. She said it remains unclear whether there was an explosion before or after the fire.
Federal officials are also combing through a wide array of records related to the boat's maintenance, training of its crew, Coast Guard inspection records and other materials regarding the boat's fire protection systems and engineering, she said.
Authorities noted the boat is not the type of vessel that requires a sprinkler system to be in compliance with federal regulations.
Surviving crew members were tested for alcohol consumption and drugs, with the exception of one person who could be not tested for alcohol since they needed to be rushed to medical treatment, authorities said. That crew member was, however, tested for drugs.
All the alcohol tests came back negative while results of the drug tests are still pending, authorities said.
Homendy said NTSB will not release a final report determining the cause of the deadly blaze for at least another 12 to 18 months.
Meanwhile, videos and other images are being taken of the Conception as it continues sitting about 60 feet underwater on the ocean floor, Homendy said. Officials are trying to map the wreckage before the boat is eventually towed away.
NTSB officials have also been in touch with loved ones of the victims, Homendy said, trying to answer their questions as the federal probe continues.
"I can't image what those families are going through right now," she said. "This was a horrific tragedy."
While the Santa Barbara County coroner has not publicly released the names of the victims, family members and others who knew them have identified at least 22 of them.
- Allie Kurtz, a crew member.
- Kristy Finstad, a marine biologist who was leading the diving expedition for her family's company, Worldwide Diving Adventures.
- Michael Quitasol and Fernisa Sison, longtime staffers at St. Joseph Medical Center in Stockton.
- Quitasol's three daughters: Evan, Nicole and Angela Quitasol. Evan had followed in her father's footsteps and worked at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, her stepbrother Dominic Selga told KTXL. Angela was a middle-school science teacher in Stockton and Nicole was a bartender in Coronado, according to the L.A. Times.
- Scott Chan, a high school physics teacher, worked in the same school district as Angela Quitasol, according to the California Teachers Association. Chan's daughter, Kendra Chan, was a marine biologist who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura.
- Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz, a couple from Arizona.
- Mike Kohls, who was a galley cook and deckhand for Conception, his brother told the Ventura County Star.
- Charles McIlvain and Marybeth Guiney, diving enthusiasts from Santa Monica.
- Two students at the Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, and the parents of one of the students, according to KSBW.
- Steve Salika and Diana Adamic, who met while working at Apple, a company executive told The Mercury News. Their daughter Tia, who was celebrating her 17th birthday, was also on the boat, the executive said.
- Dan Garcia, another Apple employee identified by the company.