LOS ANGELES – A dive boat that caught fire and sank off the California coast, killing 34 people, was raised from the ocean floor on Thursday as federal safety officials said the crew had no night watchman on duty, as required, when the flames erupted.
Television images showed the blackened, burned out hulk of the 75-foot (23-meter) Conception as it was hoisted to the surface near Santa Cruz Island, to be loaded onto a barge and taken to an undisclosed location as part of a federal investigation into the accident.
The ship burst into flames at about 3:15 a.m. on Labor Day, killing 33 passengers and a crew member who had been sleeping below decks. Santa Barbara county officials say the victims were all believed to have died of smoke inhalation.
The final body was recovered on Wednesday and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on Thursday that all 34 victims had been identified.
The Conception’s six crew members were asleep, five in berths behind the wheelhouse and the sixth in the below-decks bunk room, when the blaze broke out, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report into the incident.
The five surviving crew members have told investigators that by the time they became aware of the flames it was too late to save passengers and the sixth crew member, 26-year-old Alexandra Kurtz.
Federal authorities conducting a criminal investigation have searched offices and two other ships belonging to the owner of the Conception, Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics.
Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the conflagration, one of California’s worst maritime disasters, the NTSB report said, adding the crew was not aware of any mechanical or electrical issues with the vessel.
The document suggests investigators are looking into the possibility that the fire was ignited by lithium devices or chargers in sleeping quarters and that passengers could not escape once flames were raging in the dark, cramped space.
About the photo: This photo from video provided by KABC-TV shows divers resuming their search for the final missing victim who perished in a boat fire off the Southern California coast Wednesday. The victim is one of 34 who died at sea last week near Santa Cruz Island when the dive boat Conception burned and sank on Sept. 2. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Lt. Erik Raney says salvage efforts to recover the Conception also resumed Wednesday. (KABC-TV via AP)
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