In Los Angeles – crew members on a dive boat say they were never instructed on emergency procedures before drifting through the ship as it anchored off the Southern California coast, killing 34 people, Because they slept under the deck, according to federal documents released on Wednesday.
Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board say the cause of the explosion on the concept is undetermined but a possible ignition point was plugged into phones and other electronics outlets. A crew member told investigators that he saw the spark when he plugged it into his cellphone hours before the fire broke out.
The boat was carrying 33 passengers on a Labor Day weekend scuba diving expedition last year. The fire erupted on the final night as the concept was anchored in the boat’s home port of Santa Barbara, about 25 miles from Santa Cruz Island.
Passengers and all members of the crew sleeping under the deck were killed – none apparently had a chance to escape. Five other crew members, including Captain Jerry Boylan, jumped into the water and survived. Authorities said they barely survived after trying in vain to save others. Boleyn made a make call at 3:14 am before leaving the ship, stating, “I can’t breathe”.
They boarded a nearby boat, with the captain calling for help as members of the conception crew returned in search of the survivors. It took more than an hour after Boylan’s first May call for the Coast Guard and other boats to arrive. The conception occurred just after the day.
Boylan could face federal manslaughter counts, and recent court documents say criminal charges are imminent. The NTSB has stated that all six crew members were sleeping when the fire broke out, necessitating a revolving watch in violation of Coast Guard rules.
Hundreds of pages of documents released by the Security Board provide a detailed description of the boat’s final hours on Sept 2, 2019. It will vote on the findings of the investigation on 20 October, as well as possible causes of the blaze and any possible recommendations.
Investigators said Ryan Sims, who had been working on the boat for three weeks, reported that he had asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire. Boylan reportedly told him: “When we have time.”
“I didn’t know what the procedures were supposed to be,” Sims said. Other crew members also said they were not familiar with security procedures.
Sims told investigators he fell asleep watching Sparks when he plugged in his cellphone, and the documents do not indicate that he reported what he saw. He told investigators that “while still in a sleepy state, he had heard a pop and then down a crack” as another crew member shouted, “Fire! Fire!”
Sims, who broke his leg while running away from the burning boat, has sued the ship’s owners and the company, which alleged that the conception was not navigable at sea and operated unnecessarily.
The families of the 32 victims have filed claims against boat owners, Glenn and Dana Fritzler, and the boat company, Truth Aquatics. In return, the Fritzlers and company have filed a legal claim to protect them from harm under a maritime law that limits liability for vessel owners. He petitioned the court to settle the lawsuits with relatives of dozens of people.
Lawyers for the victims’ families, Sims, Boylan and Fritzlers, did not immediately return requests for comment. A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles who is investigating the case declined to comment.
Boylan and Fritzlers, who owned three dive boats, had a good reputation with customers and the Santa Barbara boating community. Coast Guard records show that conception had passed two of its most recent safety inspections.
In 2018, the Concept’s sister boat – the Vision – had a small fire containing lithium-ion batteries that were charging. A Coast Guard inspection of Vision following the Conception fire found 40 violations, including 11 related to fire safety. This reduced the boat’s overnight capacity to 33 people, after determining that its double bunk made it difficult for the other person in the bed to escape. An inspection a few months ago found no violations.
Passengers slept in a sharp bunk under the main deck at the 75-foot, wooden-hull conception. At one end of the bunk room a staircase reached the galley, as did a runaway hatch measuring 22 inches by 22 inches above an upper bunk and away from the ladder.
NTSB board member Jennifer Homandy noted how difficult it was to reach the hatch when she visited Vision.
Documents say the hatch of the concept’s escape was commonly discussed during the security briefing, but passengers were not shown where it was.
Kyle McAvoy, a maritime security expert with Robson Forensics in Philadelphia, often an expert witness at trials, said the safety briefing of the hatch should have been discussed, but to be “clearly articulated and unambiguous” Requires how to open it.
While interviewing the boat’s second captain, Cullen Molitor, investigators repeatedly asked about items plugged into an electrical outlet in the conception street.
Molitor said the divers plugged in flash lights, camera equipment, strobe lights and cellphones on the night of the fire. He said 10 to 20 items were plugged on one side and five to 15 on the other, with at least one power strip, though he said he was not sure, according to an interview transcript.
The Coast Guard has issued additional safety recommendations after the tragedy, such as limiting the charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.
Molitor also stated that there were two smokers in the bunk room and two smokers in the galley, but he did not hear any alarm after a crew member woke him up. He wasn’t sure if they were wired together to make a sound, but he said he would expect to hear them where he was sleeping.
“One thing we had never heard of was any screaming or beating or anything falling from the boat,” Molitor said.