What We Know: At least 12 victims from Northern California presumed dead after boat fire

Bay Area

SANTA BARBARA (KRON/AP) – After a horrific fire ripped through a scuba diving boat off the coast of Santa Barbara Monday morning, many Northern California families are among those mourning the loss of loved ones. 

At the time of the fire, officials say 34 people were sleeping below the deck and five crew members were on the top deck. 

The five crew members jumped into the water and steered a small boat to safety. 

The Sheriff’s office said that none of the 34 people have been found alive at this time.

20 bodies have been recovered and four to six bodies sunken in the boat have been seen by divers. 

Most of the victims will need to be identified by DNA analysis with samples from families. 

Families of some of the victims have taken to social media to share the horrible news.

Sheriff’s say the majority on board appear to be from Northern California.

KRON4 has learned that five family members from Stockton, a Santa Cruz diver, two kids and two parents from Santa Cruz, and two people with a connection to Sunnyvale are among those presumed dead.

Divers from Santa Cruz

41-year-old Kristina Finstad, a marine biologist and co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures, was leading the scuba tour. 

Kristy Finstad

Finstad was identified by her brother, Brett Harmeling, in a Facebook post and has thanked everyone for their love and support. 

“No final word on my sister Kristy; however, it is likely she has transitioned to be with the good Lord,” he wrote.

In addition to Finstad, a Santa Cruz charter school released a statement about two of their students who were on board, along with two parents. 

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims and those yet missing, particularly those of our students. Right now, our priority as a school community is to support our students, staff, and families. Please respect our need to gather and grieve privately.”

Pacific Collegiate School

A Family from Stockton

Five members of a Stockton family were identified by a relative, Susana Rosas, on her Facebook page. 

Rosas said her three daughters – Evan, Nicole and Angela Rose Quitasol – their father Michael Quitasol and stepmother Fernisa Sison were on board. 

Michael and Fernisa
Left to Right: Evan, Angela, Michael, Fernisa, Nicole, and Christina

Fremont Teacher and daughter

Scott Chan, a physics teacher at American High School, has been identified as a victim killed in the accident, according to the Fremont Unified School District.

The district said that Chan’s daughter, Kendra, was also on board.

Left to Right: Scott Chan, Kendra Chan

“This morning we were saddened to learn of the death of Raymond (Scott) Chan.  Mr. Chan and his child, died over the weekend in the tragic boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara.  Mr. Chan taught AP Physics 1 and AP Physics C at American for the past three years. Mr. Chan was a beloved teacher at AHS among students and colleagues. His students knew him to be an innovative and inspiring teacher who developed a passion for physics among his students. His loss is a tremendous tragedy for our school district.”

Fremont Unified School District

The district originally said Chan’s wife died in the fire but they have since corrected their statement. His wife was not on board the boat.

Kevin Chan, son and brother, posted to Facebook about his the death of Kendra.

The school district will have a crisis intervention team on campus to assist students and staff with the loss of the beloved teacher.

Pacific Scuba Divers in Sunnyvale posted to Facebook saying that Scott was a good friend and long-time customer.

‘I love you Allie’

A framed photo at a memorial in Santa Barabara has the message ‘I love you Allie,’ written on it.

The victims’ mother spoke to KTLA and has identified her as 25-year-old Alexandra Kurtz.

Allie Kurtz

Kurtz’s mother said she came to California to follow her dreams and had been working at Paramount Pictures.

At the time of the fire

The boat had departed Santa Barbara Harbor on Saturday and the fire broke out about 3 a.m. Monday while it was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, about 90 miles west of Los Angeles.

The crew appeared to quickly call for help.

“The call was garbled, it was not that clear, but we were able to get some information out of it to send vessels,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney said.

Capt. Paul Amaral of the vessel assistance company TowBoatUS also launched a fast boat from Ventura Harbor, but it was some 30 miles away.

Amaral said he first searched the water and shoreline, then turned back to the Conception, which was adrift. He attached a line and pulled it into deeper water so the fireboats could reach it.

“We launched that boat knowing that the vessel was on fire, lots of people aboard,” he told The Associated Press.

The five crew members, meanwhile, went on a dinghy to a private fishing boat, The Grape Escape, that was anchored near the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. Two had minor injuries.

That boat’s owners, Bob and Shirley Hansen, told The New York Times they were asleep when they heard pounding on the side of their 60-foot vessel about 3:30 a.m. and discovered the frightened crew members.

“When we looked out, the other boat was totally engulfed in flames, from stem to stern,” Hansen said. “I could see the fire coming through holes on the side of the boat. There were these explosions every few beats. You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous.”

The sheriff said scuba or propane tanks may have been exploding.

Hansen said two of the crew members went back toward the Conception looking for survivors but found no one.

The 75-foot Conception was on a three-day excursion to the chain of rugged, wind-swept isles that form Channel Islands National Park in the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles.

The Conception

The Conception, based in Santa Barbara Harbor on the mainland, was owned by Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics, founded in 1974. A memorial outside Truth Aquatics in the Santa Barbara Harbor grew as mourners came to pay their respects.

Dave Reid, who runs an underwater camera manufacturing business with his wife, Terry Schuller, and has traveled on the Conception and two other boats in Truth Aquatics’ fleet, said he considered all three among the best and safest.

“When you see the boats they are always immaculate,” he said. “I wouldn’t hesitate at all to go on one again. Of all the boat companies, that would be one of the ones I wouldn’t think this would happen to.”

His wife said Truth Aquatics crews have always been meticulous in going over safety instructions at the beginning of every trip she’s been on.

“They tell you where the life jackets are, how to put them on … the exits, where the fire extinguishers are, on every single trip,” said Schuller. “They are the best, the absolute best.”

Both said the sleeping area is comfortable but tight, however, with bunk beds stacked next to one another on the lowest deck. Coming up to the top deck to get off requires navigating a narrow stairway with only one exit.

Coast Guard records show all safety violations from the last five years were quickly addressed by the boat’s owners. Some violations were related to fire safety.

A 2016 inspection resulted in owners replacing the heat detector in the galley and one in 2014 cited a leaky fire hose.

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