The Coast Guard has called off the search for survivors of a deadly boat fire that occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA on Labor Day. Search and rescue teams recovered the bodies of 20 passengers, 14 others are still missing. Five survivors, all crew members, were rescued by civilians on another boat.
A total of 33 passengers and six crew members were aboard Conception, a 75-foot dive boat, when a massive fire broke out around 3:30 a.m. It is believed that all 33 passengers and one crew member were trapped on the boat by fire that blocked the stairwell and the escape hatch, Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown told local media.
Of the 20 passengers whose bodies have been recovered, 11 were women and nine were men.
Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fire. Recovery efforts will resume when dive crews can secure the wreckage of the boat which is now upside down on the seafloor in about 60 feet of water.
Residents have set up makeshift memorials along the fence near the harbor. Among those presumed dead are five members of one family. The diving excursion was part of a birthday celebration for Michael Quitasol, his wife, Fernisa Sison, and his three daughters Angela, Nicole and Evan Quitasol. Also aboard were Charles McIlvain of Culver City; Kristy Finstad, a marine biologist who operated a Santa Cruz dive business, Kendra Chan and her father Scott Chan, a physics teacher at American High School, Neal Baltz and Patricia Beitzinger of Phoenix and crew member Allie Kurtz, 26.