The crew on a dive boat that caught fire off the Southern California coast last year, killing 34, did not have emergency training, according to federal documents.
The crew of the Conception, which was carrying 33 passengers when the fire broke out on Sept. 2, claimed as much in the documents released Wednesday, The Associated Press reports.
The cause of the blaze, on the last night of a Labor Day weekend diving expedition, is still undetermined, National Transportation Safety Board investigators have said. The fact that electronics like phones were plugged into outlets is regarded as a potential point of ignition.
The tragedy, which killed all the passengers and a crew member sleeping below deck, occurred when the vessel was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, about 25 miles south of the boat’s home port in Santa Barbara.
Capt. Jerry Boylan, who abandoned the ship after making a 3:14 a.m. mayday call, jumped into the water to save himself — as did the four other surviving crew members.
Though authorities say the five barely escaped after trying and failing to save the others aboard the ship, which sank shortly after daybreak, Boylan could be charged with manslaughter.
Criminal charges are imminent, according to recent court documents.
The entire crew, all asleep when the fire began, violated Coast Guard regulations by not keeping a roving watch, according to NTSB.
The day before the fire, new crew member Ryan Sims told investigators he asked Boylan to discuss emergency protocol, with the captain reportedly telling him, “When we have time.”
Sims said he was unsure of “what the procedures were supposed to be,” a sentiment echoed by his fellow crew members.
In the hours before the fire, Sims, who broke his leg while escaping, said he saw sparks upon plugging in his cell phone, which the documents don’t indicate he reported.
Sims has sued Glen and Dana Fritzler, the owners of the Conception and Truth Aquatics, the company that chartered the boat, claiming it did not operate safely and was not seaworthy.
The victims’ families have also filed claims against the owners and the boat company, which both have responded to by filing a legal claim to shield them from damages. In that claim, the Fritzlers and Truth Aquatics point to a maritime law which restricts vessel owners’ liability.
The Fritzlers owned three dive boats and, like Boylan, had a good reputation in the Santa Barbara boating community prior to the tragedy.
The boat had even passed its two most recent safety inspections, as noted in Coast Guard records. The location of the ship’s escape hatch was not shown to passengers, though it was generally discussed during safety briefings, according to NTSB documents.
On Oct. 20, NTSB will vote on the investigation’s findings, as detailed in hundreds of pages of documents. The safety board will also vote on the probably cause of the fire and potential recommendations.
With News Wire Services