‘We’re Devastated’: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mourns Biologist Killed in Boat Fire Off Santa Cruz Island
A Labor Day diving excursion through the Channel Islands ended in tragedy when flames swept through the boat as 33 divers and a crew member slept below deck.
The fire quickly engulfed the boat, killing all aboard the Conception, except for five crew members who who were awake on the main deck and managed to escape the blaze before the dive vessel sunk off Santa Cruz Island.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kendra Chan and her father were among those killed in Monday’s fire, authorities said.
On Saturday, the agency’s officials said they were “devastated” by the loss of 26-year-old Chan and her father.
“It is with inconceivable sadness that we share today the passing of one of our own,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. “We’re devastated by this heart-breaking news and our thoughts remain with her loved ones during this unimaginably difficult time.”
The wildlife agency described Chan as a “remarkable human being” whose “positive energy enriched the lives of those she touched through her love of nature, wildlife, and the outdoors.”
“She was a force for good, and led a life that made the world around her a better place. She loved the ocean, from surfing and diving to tide pooling. Her passion, curiosity, and enthusiasm for all living things – from tiny skeleton shrimp to the tidewater goby – were infectious. We will miss her dearly, and will carry her energy with us in the days ahead,” the agency said.
Authorities on Friday released 22 names of the 34 victims killed in the fire, revealing they all likely died from smoke inhalation.
The victims were identified as: Carol Diana Adamic, 60, Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, and Steven Salika, 55, all of Santa Cruz; Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, Michael Quitasol, 62, all of Stockton; Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, of Imperial Beach; Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, and Patricia Ann Beitzinger, 48, both of Arizona; Marybeth Guiney, 51, and Charles McIlvain, 44, both of Santa Monica; Daniel Garcia, 46, and Yulia Krashennaya, 40, both of Berkeley; Wei Tan, 26, of Goleta; Caroline McLaughlin, 35, of Oakland; Raymond “Scott”Chan, 59, of Los Altos; Kendra Chan, 26, of Oxnard; Ted Strom, 62, of Tennessee; Vaidehi Campbell, 41, of Felton; Andrew Fritz, 40, of Sacramento; Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, of Anaheim and Alexandra Kurtz, 26, of Santa Barbara.
“This list is representative of the diverse makeup of the passengers and crew who were aboard the Conception on that fateful day,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a Friday news conference. “They were from our local area and from throughout California, from across the United States and from around the world. Their tragic loss has devastated countless family members, loved ones, friends and colleagues.”
Authorities were still working to contact the families of the rest of the victims that have not been officially identified.
The victims included scientists, nurses, students, a photographer, a teacher and government employees.
Some were family members. One mother said she lost three daughters in the fire. And a 17-year-old celebrating her birthday was killed in the fire along with her parents.
DNA analysis was used to identify the victims because of the varying degrees of burns suffered from the intense flames, according to the sheriff.
Grieving families of those killed came from California, Arizona, Tennessee and as far away as Singapore, Japan and India, authorities said.
The investigation into what caused the fire was still underway Saturday and officials were working to retrieve the boat and find one of the 34 bodies that still hadn’t been recovered.