LOS ANGELES – Coast Guard officials have recovered the bodies of 33 people who died in a massive fire aboard the Conception that started as the 75-foot vessel was anchored off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Labor Day. One person is still missing, authorities said Wednesday.
Thirty-nine people were on board for a three-day scuba diving trip when the fire broke out. Five crew members jumped overboard and paddled to a nearby vessel. They survived. The passengers and a sixth crew member were asleep below deck and were likely trapped by the flames, officials said.
Officials had recovered the remains of 20 people – 11 female and 9 male – as of Tuesday. Thirteen more bodies were found as of Wednesday, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matt Kroll said.
The names of those who perished in the fire off the Ventura County coast have not been released by officials.
On Wednesday morning, about a dozen divers with the FBI gathered at Santa Barbara Harbor to search for the last victim. They will join divers from other government agencies to comb the area where the Conception sank days earlier, said Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Lt. Brian Olmstead.
About three dozen divers have participated in search efforts over the last few days. They go out for hours at a time and return “emotionally drained,” Olmstead said.
“Our priority is trying to find the last victim and also items that would be of interest to find out what happened,” he said. “You want to bring closure to the families.”
The Conception is submerged in 60 to 65 feet of water. Divers are taking digital images of the wreckage before the vessel is raised and can be examined, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday.
Homendy described the investigation as lengthy and detailed. Investigators interviewed four crew members and Glen Fritzler, the owner of the company Truth Aquatics that operated the Conception. More interviews will be conducted with first responders, additional Truth Aquatics employees and the owners of the Grape Escape – the fishing boat that helped rescue crew members.
“I characterize these as very cooperative,” she said of Wednesday’s interviews.
She also met for two hours with the families of those who died in the fire.
“They’re the most important people to us right now,” Homendy said.
On the docks nearby, Homendy, Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer and investigators toured the Conception’s sister ship, the 80-foot Vision, also owned by Truth Aquatics.