The Latest: State senator says community ‘heartbroken’

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on the fire aboard a diving boat near a Southern California island that is believed to have killed 34 people (all times local):

2:45 p.m.

A California state senator says the boat fire that killed dozens of people has been a “blow to the gut” for a community that prizes the ocean.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who represents Santa Barbara, said the tragedy has the whole community “heartbroken.”

Authorities say a boat owned by Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics caught fire and sunk early Monday morning. At least 34 passengers on board are presumed dead. Recovery efforts continued Tuesday as authorities called off a search for survivors.

Jackson said the company was “considered top drawer,” and said the boat was in “exceptionally good condition.” She said the owner is “highly regarded and respected throughout the community,” making it difficult to explain what happened.

Jackson said she will be paying close attention to the investigation.


1:35 p.m.

A Catholic priest working at the center set up for relatives of people missing and presumed dead in the California scuba diving boat fire says he’s spoken with 15 to 20 relatives of those who were aboard.

Father Pedro Lopez of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santa Barbara said Tuesday that he and other clergy members are trying to comfort the relatives and make sure they don’t spend time alone.

Lopez says “it’s just hard for them to process all of this.”

He says some of the relatives who have visited the center have several family members missing.

The boat named the Conception caught fire before dawn Monday. Thirty three passengers and one crew member were sleeping below decks and are presumed dead.

Five crew members who were on the deck of the boat when the fire broke out escaped.


1 p.m.

A relative says five people from one Northern California family are missing and presumed dead after the scuba diving boat they were on burned near a Southern California island.

Susana Rosas posted on social media Tuesday that her three daughters, their father and stepmother were on board the Conception when it caught fire before dawn Monday morning.

Thirty four people are presumed dead in the fire and the search for survivors has been suspended. Five of the boat’s six crew members escaped.


11:45 a.m.

The initial critical moments of the deadly fire that engulfed a dive boat off Southern California are still under investigation.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Tuesday there were apparently several mayday radio calls before dawn Monday.

Brown says the first call may have come from the burning vessel Conception, on which 34 people in below-decks accommodations are believed to have died.

He says subsequent calls may have come from a nearby boat that picked up five crew members who survived.

In one radio exchange, a Coast Guard radio communicator asked if people were locked inside the boat and whether the person could get back aboard the Conception and unlock doors. The replies to those questions are not on the recording.

Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester says there are no door locks in berthing spaces on such vessels.

Rochester says she interviewed the radio communicator and says he was actually trying to ask for information during a confusing situation.


11:20 a.m.

A Northern California school has confirmed that it had students and parents on board a dive boat that caught fire near an island off the Southern California coast.

Thirty four people are presumed dead in the fire and the search has been suspended.

Maria C. Reitano is the head of Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz and declined Tuesday to say how many students or parents were on board the Conception. She says the trip was not school-sponsored.

In a statement posted on its website, the school says “our hearts and thoughts are with the families of the victims and those yet missing, particularly those of our students and parents on board.”

Reitano and the school asked for privacy.

Pacific Collegiate School is a college preparation public charter school for grades 7-12.


11:15 a.m.

Authorities say the people killed when fire engulfed a dive boat off Southern California will have to be identified through DNA.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Tuesday the fire that gutted the vessel Conception early Monday was extraordinarily hot.

The sheriff says most victims appear to have been from Northern California, including Santa Cruz, San Jose and the San Francisco Bay region.

Brown says he doesn’t have exact information on the victims’ ages but cited anecdotal reports of a 17-year-old and some adults in their 60s.

All 34 people who were below decks when the fire erupted are believed to have died. Remains of 20 have been recovered and as many as six more bodies have been seen still in the submerged wreck.

Five crew members were rescued by a nearby boat after jumping in the ocean.


10:55 a.m.

Authorities say crew members who escaped from the dive boat that burned near a Southern California island have submitted written statements to officials.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown declined to disclose details of that they said because investigation is ongoing into the fire that officials presume killed 33 scuba dive trip passengers and one crew member.

Brown also says the surviving crew members will be interviewed on Tuesday.

He says there’s no indication that the fire was preceded by an explosion.

Brown says explosions a witness on another boat reported happened after the fire was underway and could have been scuba or propane tanks exploding.

A search for survivors has been suspended.

— This corrects that the sheriff said scuba tanks not oxygen tanks.


10:40 a.m.

Officials say there’s no indication anyone who was below decks escaped when fire erupted on a dive boat off Southern California.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced the news Tuesday as the Coast Guard and other agencies suspended the search for additional survivors beyond the five crew members who were rescued early Monday morning off Santa Cruz Island.

There were believed to be 33 passengers and one crew member sleeping below decks at the time. They are presumed dead.

Brown says it appears that the berthing quarters exit and an escape hatch were blocked by fire.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.


10:16 a.m.

Thirty four people are presumed dead in the California dive boat fire and the search has been suspended.

Santa Barbara County Bill Brown said Tuesday that the bodies of 20 victims have been recovered and divers have seen between and four and six others in the sunken wreckage, which must be stabilized.

Brown says the recovered remains include 11 females and nine males and DNA will be used to identify them.

Thirty-nine people including six crew members were aboard the vessel Conception when it caught fire early Monday morning while anchored off Santa Cruz Island.

Five crew members jumped in the ocean and were rescued.


8:20 a.m.

Authorities say divers are working in pairs at the site where a diving boat sank near a Southern California island after it was engulfed in flames.

Commander Jay Donovan of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that the divers from multiple law enforcement agencies are using their hands because of limited visibility and search in grids as they look for nine people who are still missing. Officials have confirmed that 25 people died.

There were 39 people aboard the Conception when it caught fire before dawn Monday as recreational scuba divers slept in bunks below deck.

Five of the boat’s six crew members escaped and used a dinghy to get to a nearby boat.


7:35 a.m.

The dozens of passengers aboard the dive boat gutted by fire off the Southern California included a 41-year-old marine biologist with years of diving experience.

Kristy Finstad has been identified by her brother Brett Harmeling of Houston as among those aboard the vessel Conception when it was engulfed in flames early Monday off Santa Cruz Island.

Harmeling says in a Facebook post that his sister was leading the dive trip and he asks for prayers.

Harmeling described his sister to the Los Angeles Times as extremely strong-willed and adventurous.

There were 39 people aboard the Conception, including six crew members.

Authorities say five crew members were rescued and 25 deaths have been confirmed so far, but no identities have been made public.


6:50 a.m.

Authorities say dive teams and other search crews have continued to search through the night for people still missing following a dive boat fire off Southern California’s coast that killed dozens sleeping below deck.

Santa Barbara City Fire Department spokeswoman Amber Anderson says Tuesday that fog and low clouds are not expected to limit the search crews in their efforts.

She says several families have visited an assistance center set up for relatives of people who were aboard the boat.

Thirty three passengers and six crew members were aboard the dive-boat Conception when it was engulfed by flames before dawn Monday.

Five crew members sleeping on the boat’s top deck jumped off and took a dinghy to safety.

As of Monday night, authorities had confirmed the deaths of 25 people.


12 a.m.

Authorities are searching for the nine people who remain missing after a boat fire off the coast of southern California killed dozens who were left sleeping below decks with only one narrow stairway out.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll said Monday that 25 people had died, and the search would continue through the night for nine still unaccounted for.

Authorities opened a family assistance center where counseling was being provided to relatives of those onboard the dive-boat Conception when it sank Monday. None of their names were immediately released.

The missing and dead were among 39 passengers and crew who had departed Santa Barbara’s Channel Islands Harbor on Saturday aboard the boat Conception for a Labor Day weekend scuba-diving trip.

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