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Investigation Points to “Serious Safety Lapses” Aboard Doomed California Dive Boat

The preliminary investigation into a devastating dive boat fire that tragically killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California suggests “serious safety” lapses may have contributed to the Labor Day disaster.

The Conception was moored just off Santa Cruz Island when it suddenly burst into flames shortly after 3:00 a.m. on September 2nd. All 33 passenger and one crew member died after fire blocked the only two exits from a single below-deck sleeping cabin.

Just five crew managed to escape the Conception with their lives. All had been asleep on a higher deck when the blaze broke out.

California Dive Boat May Have Lacked “Roaming Night Monitor”

While investigators have yet to determine what caused the California dive boat fire, an anonymous source told The Los Angeles Times that they’ve already uncovered several concerning safety deficiencies aboard the Conception.

Those issues purportedly include the absence of a mandatory “roaming night monitor.” According to The Times, that individual would have been required to remain awake overnight and warn passengers in the event of a fire or other hazard.

Apparently, the investigation has also raised questions about the adequacy of crew training, as well as the safety briefing passengers received upon boarding the Conception last Saturday for a three-day diving excursion in the Channel Islands.

Neither the U.S. Coast Guard or the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would comment on the allegations raised in The Times’ report.

NTSB Investigators Toured Conception Sister Ship

Earlier this week, NTSB investigators toured the Vision, a slightly larger sister ship to the Conception that shares a similar layout. After the tour, board member Jennifer Homendy suggested the tight quarters, darkness, and a small emergency hatch might have hindered passengers’ escape.

“You have to climb up a ladder and across the top bunk and then push a wooden door up,” she said. “It was a tight space. We couldn’t turn the light on.”

Homendy added that she was “taken aback” by the size of the emergency hatch, which could pose problems during a chaotic evacuation, especially for larger people.

The NTSB has also interviewed the surviving crew members, who indicated that the fire was too intense to save those trapped below deck.

Conception Survivors Described “Harrowing” Ordeal

“What’s emerging from the interviews is a harrowing story of the last few minutes before the boat was engulfed in flames,” Homendy said. “They felt that they had done what they could do in a very panicked situation.”

The California dive boat fire apparently began in the galley. At least one crew member also reported that cell phones and cameras were charging overnight in the galley, leading some to speculate that a lithium battery might have triggered the blaze.

The Conception crew member who first noticed the flames told investigators that he never heard a smoke alarm. During Wednesday’s briefing, Homendy noted that the Vision did have a type of smoke alarm that can be purchased at Home Depot, but it wasn’t wired into a central system with alarms.  Such systems weren’t required when the boats were built.

According to the Coast Guard, the Conception also wasn’t required to have sprinklers.

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