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Deadly Boat Fire Off Santa Cruz Island Near Ventura

Home » Deadly Boat Fire Off Santa Cruz Island Near Ventura
September 05, 2019
Edward Smith

Deadly Boat Fire Off Santa Cruz Island Near Ventura

A Labor Day weekend tragically ended when a boat fire broke out aboard a diving vessel. The tragedy took place 20 yards off the Channel Islands on the north side of Santa Cruz Island. The fire erupted onboard the 75-foot commercial diving vessel, the Conception, at approximately 3:28 a.m on September 2. There were 39 people on board, 33 of whom were passengers, along with six crew members. The passengers and one member of the crew were sleeping below deck when it happened. All but six of the people on board are believed to have been killed. Of the five that survived, all were members of Conception’s crew, including the captain of the vessel. One person is still missing. On Tuesday, September 3, the search for others in the area off the Ventura County coast was suspended, according to Capt. Monica Rochester, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard who provided support for the rescue operation. She said it is not an easy decision but that no one else was seen entering the waters nor did surveillance aircraft see any signs of distress or debris due to the boat accident suggesting the search should continue. 

Additional Details of the Fire

Firefighters had a difficult time extinguishing the blaze. Each time the fire was doused, it began to flame back up, probably due to the fuel onboard. In addition, fog was said to complicate the rescue operation. The ordeal was worsened by the fact that the fire broke out on the open sea in the dark. Although firefighters from Ventura reached the scene within 15 minutes, the vessel was engulfed in flames by the time they reached it. At 7:20 a.m., the Conception began to sink, eventually sinking in 64 feet of water with its hull inverted. According to a Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman, Bill Eliason, the fire had burned Conception down to the waterline by the time this occurred. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

The Crew

Crew members, including the captain, were on the bridge of the vessel when it caught fire and were able to get off. They managed to reach a nearby fishing vessel, the Grape Escape, using a dingy. The owners, Bob and Shirley Hansen, were woken by pounding on the side of their boat. They were able to pull the crew members on board their boat. The crew was visibly shaken by the event. One, according to Shirley Hansen, was inconsolable and said that three of the passengers celebrated birthdays during the trip, one of whom was a 17-year-old traveling with her parents. The captain explained that the passengers were trapped on the vessel and that the rear hatch was engulfed by fire and the crew could not reach them. Another crew member said his girlfriend had been in the sleeping quarters when the fire broke out.

Owner and Captain of the Conception

The Conception is owned by Truth Aquatics, a company that is highly regarded by divers. The owner of the company, Glen Fritzler, who has been honored for his work in the industry, said his boats, including the Conception and several others, have welcomed 450,000 divers making over a million dives. The vessel was built in 1981. The captain, identified as Jerry Boylan, has been with the company for a considerable time. Capt. Monica Rochester said the Conception is inspected every year and was in compliance with regulatory requirements. One veteran diver who has traveled on the Conception said that passengers are given safety briefings that cover lifeboats, alarms, fire extinguishers, and how to navigate out of the sleeping quarters using two exits. The escape hatch is not locked, according to the diver. All diving operations of Truth Aquatics are postponed at this time.

Family Assistance Center

A family assistance center has been erected. It is located in Santa Barbara at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. A family hotline is open. Families can call (833) 688-5551 for information.

Ventura Personal Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Ventura personal injury lawyer. My staff and I would like to join the community in offering our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those killed aboard the Conception. As always, we are available to provide free and friendly advice to callers at (805) 372-0200 or at (800) 404-5400. We are also available online if you find that more convenient.

I’ve helped many clients through traumatic events and in all types of accidents, including wrongful death and brain injuries

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Photo Attribution: By Robert Schwemmer, CINMS, NOAA – NOAA Photo Library, Public Domain,

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