Santa Barbara still grieving after deadly Conception fire

33 bodies recovered; one victim still missing

Emily Peterson, News Editor

On Monday, September 2nd, a terrible fire broke out on the MV Conception, a dive boat anchored off the coast of Santa Cruz island for a Labor Day weekend diving excursion. The fire, which killed 33 passengers and one crew member, is reportedly the deadliest in California since 1865.


In an interview with Spectrum News 1, Truth Aquatics co-owner Glen Fritzler stated that “We need answers like the public needs answers,” and that the crew and captain of the Conception are “an emotional wreck.”


The precise cause of the blaze has yet to be determined. While the Conception was an older vessel, it was up to regulation. Surviving crew did not hear a smoke alarm, though smoke detectors were on board. While concentrated oxygen tanks for diving purposes were on board the vessel, they were some of the last things to ignite. 


Due to the position of the fire, all escape routes from the Conception’s sleeping quarters — an escape hatch in the back of the galley and a stairway in the front — were not traversable. The five survivors were on the bridge, and jumped from the side of the boat into the water. One crew member broke a leg in the process of fleeing the vessel. 


Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown stated that it appears that smoke inhalation was the primary cause of death for victims of the fire. Preliminary autopsies revealed that the victims, who were sleeping in the berths below deck, died before the fire reached them. 


As of Monday, Sept. 8th, 31 of the 34 victims have been identified, and 33 bodies have been recovered. Salvage efforts are underway, though suspended until later this week due to poor weather conditions. The Conception is still underwater as of Sept. 7. Top priorities are recovering the final missing victim and preserving the vessel’s integrity.


In an official statement released by Fritzler last Friday, he writes that “We are utterly crushed. We are devastated. […] Our lives have been irreversibly changed by this tragedy and the sorrow it has caused.” The search for answers is nowhere near over.


A vigil for the victims of the devastating fire was held last Friday at Chase Palm Park, with over 2000 people in attendance. 34 diving tanks representing the victims were displayed. A memorial, with flowers and photographs, has been set up by the Santa Barbara Harbor.


As the Santa Barbara community continues to reel from this tragic event, I invite Westmont to show compassion towards those who were affected. Even if you, reader, did not personally know any of the victims, it’s highly likely that you know someone who did. If you are able, please prayerfully support those around you as our community grieves.


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