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NTSB investigator ‘taken aback’ by small escape hatch on Conception

Sep 5, 2019 06:49 PM

The dive boat caught fire on Monday, killing 33 passengers and a crewmember who were trapped below deck

NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy and Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer tour the berthing area of Vision, a sister vessel to Conception, on Wednesday in Santa Barbara Harbor.

NTSB photo

NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy and Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer tour the berthing area of Vision, a sister vessel to Conception, on Wednesday in Santa Barbara Harbor.

(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) — The lead investigator in the Conception boat fire disaster expressed concerns Wednesday about the ability of passengers to escape in an emergency after she and her team toured a similar vessel in Santa Barbara Harbor, the Los Angeles Times reported.

National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) member Jennifer Homendy said she was “taken aback” by the size of the emergency hatch when she toured Vision, an 80-foot sister vessel to the 75-foot Conception.

Authorities say 34 people died in the early morning hours on Monday when a fire swept through the dive boat as it was anchored off Santa Cruz Island.

Five crewmembers who were on deck when the fire broke out were able to escape. All 33 passengers, who had signed up for a three-day scuba diving trip aboard the boat, and a member of the crew sleeping below deck died in the fire.

The NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal and county agencies are trying to determine what caused the fire and why people were not able to get out.

Homendy said she and the investigators turned the lights off aboard Vision to see what it would have been like for the passengers trapped on Conception. Getting to the emergency hatch was difficult, she said, adding that they couldn’t find the light switches in the dark.

“You have to climb up a ladder and across the top bunk and then push a wooden door up,” she said. “It was a tight space. We couldn’t turn the light on.”

Though slightly larger than Conception, Vision has a similar layout. Single and double bunks are stacked two and three high in the boat’s sleeping quarters below deck. A wooden staircase leads from the sleeping area up to the galley. Authorities say the exit on Conception, along with an escape hatch that opens up near the dive deck on the boat, were blocked by fire.

Both boats are owned by Truth Aquatics. The Coast Guard has said Conception had passed all recent inspections.

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