Monday, November 23, 2020
Nov. 23, 2020

Linkedin Pinterest

Watchman could have saved lives in California boat fire

By
Published:
5 Photos
FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast. Federal authorities are expected to vote Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 on what likely sparked a fire aboard a scuba dive boat last year that killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California. The pre-dawn blaze aboard the Conception is one of California's deadliest maritime disasters, prompting both criminal and safety investigations into the Sept. 2, 2019 tragedy that claimed the lives of 33 passengers and one crew member on a Labor Day weekend expedition near an island off Santa Barbara.
FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast. Federal authorities are expected to vote Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 on what likely sparked a fire aboard a scuba dive boat last year that killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California. The pre-dawn blaze aboard the Conception is one of California's deadliest maritime disasters, prompting both criminal and safety investigations into the Sept. 2, 2019 tragedy that claimed the lives of 33 passengers and one crew member on a Labor Day weekend expedition near an island off Santa Barbara. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — The lack of a required roving night watchman aboard a scuba dive boat delayed the detection of a fire that killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The predawn fire aboard the Conception is one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters, prompting both criminal and safety investigations. The Sept. 2, 2019, tragedy killed 33 passengers and one crew member on a Labor Day weekend expedition near an island off Santa Barbara.

Investigators told the National Transportation Safety Board that because some of the passengers’ bodies were recovered wearing shoes, they believe they were awake and trying to escape before being overcome with smoke.

Coroner reports list smoke inhalation as the cause of death for all of the victims.

Investigators said that because the boat burned and sank, they couldn’t determine what caused the fire. But they found that it began toward the back of the main deck salon area, where divers had plugged in phones, flashlights and other items with lithium ion batteries that can spread flames quickly.

Court documents say federal criminal charges against the boat’s captain are imminent, though that probe is separate from the NTSB’s proceedings.

The federal regulatory agency does not have enforcement powers and must submit its suggestions to bodies like the Federal Aviation Administration or the Coast Guard, which have repeatedly rejected some of the board’s safety recommendations after other disasters.

The Coast Guard has, however, issued additional safety recommendations following the Conception fire, such as limiting the charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.

Five crew members, including Capt. Jerry Boylan, were asleep above deck when the fire broke out — an apparent violation of Coast Guard regulations requiring a roving watchman — and managed to escape by jumping into the water. Authorities said they repeatedly tried in vain to save the others.

The surviving crew members also told investigators they were never instructed on emergency procedures.

The families of 32 victims also have filed claims against the boat owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler, and the boat company, Truth Aquatics. In turn, the Fritzlers and the company have filed a legal claim to shield them from damages under a maritime law that limits liability for vessel owners. Court filings show they have offered to settle lawsuits with dozens of victims’ relatives.

Loading...