34 Killed in a Dive Boat Fire


A raging fire engulfed the diving boat Conception in the predawn hours on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Authories believe 34 people were trapped below deck as the ship burned and later sank off Santa Cruz Island. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department)

Lexi Incandela, Reporter

On Monday, September 2nd, a dive boat named “Conception” caught on fire off the coast of Southern California, killing 34 people. The fire started at 3:14 a.m, while people were asleep, causing them to be trapped on a lower level of the boat. According to Santa Barbara County Sheriff, Bill Brown, the fire above deck blocked the stairway and an emergency exit hatch where people tried to escape. “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy,” Brown said. The people that were on this boat, signed up for a weekend of scuba diving, with gourmet meals, and diving among underwater sea life, but on the last day, the boat caught fire.

Four crew members and the captain, all of whom were picked up by a Good Samaritan on a boat coincidentally known as the “Grape Escape”. The Ventura County Fire Department was on the scene within fifteen minutes after getting the call. They worked to put out the fire, however, the boat was sinking, and the victims were already deceased. Since most of the victims had severe burns and thermal damage, authorities used rapid DNA test to identify and collected test form family members.

Jerry Boylan, Captain of Conception survived the fire, but is under great scrutiny for abandoning his ship. Under Federal Law, a captain or crew member can be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison if misconduct, inattention, and negligence to duty leads to a death. “If you have either designed or put into place an operation that, knowing the risks that are there, and fire is certainly one of them, that put people in a serious risk of dying, I guess that sort of rises to the level of what I would consider involuntary manslaughter,” said Attorney Gordon Carey, who practices in maritime law. Glen Fritzler who owned Conception said that his crew members stayed till the last moment, “They said that they could see Jerry jump from the upper deck and that there was a trial of smoke following him. They thought he was on fire.”

Conception was filled with a range of people from different ages, backgrounds, and professions. 40-year old’s Andrew Fritz and his wife Adrian-Dahood Fritz were two victims from the fire. Andrew Fritz was a photography instructor and Adrian-Dahood Fritz was a marine biologist. 25-year old Allie Kurtz was a crew member on the ship who graduated form Cincinnati’s School for the Performing Arts. “She wanted to go on the Conception so bad. She wanted to work that boat, and she was finally able to work that boat,” said her sister, Olivia Kurtz.”She left this world doing something she absolutely loved. This was her dream, and she was finally able to fulfill this dream.” Most of the deceased have been identified by family members, or friends.

The National Transportation Safety Board as well as surviving crew members that were interviewed following the fire, claimed no alarms went off to alert passengers of the danger. “It’s not hooked up into the wiring, into the system that notifies the bridge there’s a problem,” said Jennifer Homendy and NSTB member. In 2014 and 2016, the Coast Guard performed routine safety inspection on the Conception, there were violations found but were repaired prior to re-inspection.

As of now, the cause of the fire is being investigated by federal, state, and local authorities however, the investigation is challenging because the boat is sitting upside down in 60 feet of water. “All of that will be a very large hurdle to overcome,” said George Zeitler, a former Coast Guard inspector. The story will not end with investigations, as officials feel lawsuits will be coming due to the large number of deaths.