The dive boat Conception had no night watchman on duty when it caught fire and sank off the Southern California coast on Labor Day killing 34 people, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Although a roving watchman is a requirement for vessels like the Conception, all 39 people aboard were asleep when the fire broke out at 3:15 a.m. and rapidly spread. Five crew members were asleep in berths behind the wheelhouse, one crew member and 33 passengers were asleep in a bunkroom below deck.
According to the report, one crew member told investigators he was awakened by a loud noise and went to investigate. When he saw the fire, he woke up the other crew members sleeping in the berths behind the wheelhouse. The captain made a distress call to the Coast Guard and then they all attempted to get to the bunkroom.
The aft ladder was on fire so they jumped to the main deck, one crew member breaking his leg as he landed. Smoke detectors were sounding loudly as they tried to access the galley but were pushed back by the flames and thick smoke. They jumped overboard. The captain and two crew members swam to the stern to open the hatch to the engine room where they saw no fire. They launched a small skiff and found the two other crew members. They were then picked up by a recreational craft called Grape Escape.
Aboard the Grape Escape, the captain of the Conception continued to radio for help while two crew members returned to the Conception to look for survivors.
Firefighters and the Coast Guard arrived on the scene and worked to contain the blaze and search for and rescue survivors but by morning the boat had burned to the waterline and later sank to the ocean floor. Divers recovered the body of the last missing victim of the Conception fire today.
The NTSB report comes days after the Coast Guard issued a warning about emergency preparedness measures, including the limitation of the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries.
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