The Latest: Vigil held to remember dive boat victims

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Latest on the deadly California dive boat fire investigation (all times local):

8 p.m.

Hundreds have gathered to remember the 34 scuba divers killed when their boat caught fire and sank off Southern California.

Clergy and others offered words of solace Friday evening in a vigil at a Santa Barbara park.

Thirty-four scuba tanks were arranged in memory of those killed when the Conception caught fire Monday off Santa Cruz Island.

Mourners wept, embraced and placed white carnations in baskets. The flowers and a wreath will be placed at an existing waterside memorial to those lost at sea.

Divers have recovered the bodies of all but one victim. But efforts to salvage the boat were halted Friday because of gusty winds. Officials say operations will resume when it’s safe.


4 p.m.

The U.S. Coast Guard says safety concerns have halted efforts to salvage the dive boat Conception, which claimed 34 lives when it caught fire and sank off the Southern California coast.

Petty Officer Mark Barney says forecasts of gusty winds made it too risky to continue the operation off of Santa Cruz Island.

Winds of up to 40 mph (65 kph) are predicted through the weekend. Authorities say salvage operations will resume when it’s safe to do so.

The Conception is lying upside down in some 65 feet (20 meters) of water. Barney says authorities want to keep it as intact as possible when they raise it.

Thirty-three bodies have been recovered. Divers are still looking for the final victim.


3 p.m.

The California company that owned the scuba diving boat that caught fire and killed 34 people says a lawsuit it filed to head off litigation from families of the victims is an “unfortunate side” of such tragedies.

Truth Aquatics Inc. says in a statement Friday that the lawsuit is something the family-owned business wouldn’t even consider but pinned the action on insurance companies and other so-called stakeholders.

The vessel burned early Monday off the California coast, with only five crew members surviving. The sued Thursday, invoking a law aimed at protecting the maritime industry.

Critics condemned the move, which comes as victims are still being identified and one remains missing.

Truth Aquatics says the timing is the responsibility of the insurers and stakeholders, and that while the company is grieving, it’s only doing what experts advise.


11:25 a.m.

Authorities say medical examiners believe dozens of people trapped when a California scuba diving boat caught fire died of smoke inhalation, not burns.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters Friday that all the victims sleeping in tight quarters below deck had signs of smoke inhalation and a preliminary examination shows they died before being burned.

The fire killed 34 people, and all but one body has been recovered. Five crew members who were above deck survived Monday’s fire by jumping overboard and say they tried to save the victims.

Brown says there are no plans to conduct traditional autopsies, with a pathologist convinced smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death, but examiners will make a final determination.

The sheriff says there are multiple investigations into different aspects of a fire but that it hasn’t become a criminal probe.


10:25 a.m.

The remains of 18 people killed in a fire on a California scuba diving boat have been identified.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Friday that identifications require DNA analysis because of the fire’s intensity early Monday aboard the vessel Conception.

Brown told reporters that the families of all 34 victims have been contacted to collect DNA samples.

The sheriff says the FBI helped with that effort across the U.S. and internationally. Brown says one relative was a mother in Japan, another was in Singapore and another flew in from India.

Authorities have found the remains of 33 people and are searching the ocean for the remaining missing victim. They also are trying to recover the sunken vessel.


10:10 a.m.

The owner of the scuba dive boat that burned off Southern California, killing 34 people, says he and his family are devastated.

Glen Fritzler of Truth Aquatics says in an Instagram post Friday that no words will ease the pain that the victims’ loved ones are feeling, but he and his family extend “deepest condolences” for Monday’s tragedy.

Fritzler says it’s a family-run business and customers and crew members are family to them.

Authorities are investigating how a fire started and swept through the boat as people slept below deck, trapping them.

Five crew members were able to escape by jumping from the burning boat after they say they tried to rescue those who died.


10:30 p.m.

Crew members who jumped from a burning scuba diving boat off Southern California said they tried to rescue the 34 people who perished in the fiery sinking but couldn’t reach them.

Federal investigators say crew members on the Conception couldn’t reach those in bunks below deck Monday because an entrance through the galley was on fire and they couldn’t open windows at the front before being forced to jump ship.

The boat owner, Glen Fritzler, tells KEYT-TV that the crew did everything possible and the captain stayed aboard so long that he appeared to be trailing smoke when he leapt into the water.

He also says flames kept the crew from reaching firefighting equipment.

Fritzler says the five survivors are “breaking down” from the experience and are seeking counseling.

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