The Latest: Dive boat owner says crew tried to reach victims

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on the scuba diving boat fire off the coast of California that is presumed to have killed 34 people (all times local):

10:10 p.m.

The owner of a scuba diving boat that caught fire and sank off Southern California says the surviving crewmembers did everything they could to rescue the 34 people who died.

Glen Fritzler told KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara Thursday that fire had engulfed the lower decks of the Conception before the crew above saw the flames.

Authorities have said it was likely flames blocked escape routes for those below decks.

Fritzler says the captain remained aboard as long as he could, trying to make radio distress calls. He says other crew members saw him jump from the upper deck, trailing smoke, and thought he was on fire. Only five crew members survived.

Federal investigators say the crew told investigators that they tried to reach those below decks but flames, smoke and heat forced them to abandon ship.


3:45 p.m.

The owners of the California dive boat where 34 people died in a fire have filed a lawsuit to avoid liability in the case.

Truth Aquatics Inc., which owned the Conception, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to limit its liability.

Anyone who can make a claim against the company will be served with notice the company is asserting it is not liable for damages from victims.

The suit said the company and owners Glen and Dana Fritzler made the boat seaworthy and the craft was properly manned and equipped.

Charles Naylor, who represents victims in maritime law cases, says the action forces family members in their grief to respond to a lawsuit.


3:30 p.m.

Investigators say the crew of the dive ship that sank off the Southern California coast made several attempts to save the 34 people who were trapped by fire and died.

All those lost in the Labor Day tragedy were sleeping below deck when fire broke out around 3 a.m. The captain and four crew members above deck survived.

Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the cause, said all five were interviewed and described the terrifying situation.

One was awakened by a noise and saw flames pouring from the galley area. The fire spread quickly, and one crew member broke a leg jumping to the deck but still tried to get to the 33 passengers and one crew member in a bunk room below. The crew member was driven back by flames.

They also tried to get through windows to help those trapped but couldn’t and then abandoned ship. The crew soon returned in a skiff but couldn’t find any survivors.


1:54 p.m.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says a senior environmental scientist who worked on marine conservation for the state and her husband were on the scuba diving boat that went up in flames off the coast.

Newsom said in a statement Thursday that Adrian Dahood-Fritz worked for the state’s Ocean Protection Council leading efforts to manage a network of marine protected areas.

He says she took the trip with her husband, Andrew Fritz, and they are presumed dead.

Newsom says he joins with the couple’s family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

He says he is grateful to first responders and based on the findings of the investigation California will take steps to prevent future boat fires.


11 a.m.

U.S. authorities are investigating potential ignition sources of a deadly fire on a scuba diving boat, including electronics aboard the vessel.

Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Thursday that investigators know photography equipment, batteries and other electronics were stored and plugged in on the Conception.

She said officials are not ruling out any possibilities as they probe what caused the blaze.

Homendy also said she inspected a vessel similar to the Conception and was concerned about the accessibility of its escape hatch.

The Conception had been in full compliance with Coast Guard regulations.


10:04 p.m.

The dozens of people who perished as flames engulfed and sank a dive boat off Southern California included high schoolers, a hairdresser, a marine biologist, a movie special effects designer and a family of five.

But a common love of scuba diving brought them to the Channel Islands for a Labor Day holiday.

Authorities say 34 people were likely trapped below decks of the Conception Monday. Divers have recovered all but one body.

Five crew members, including the captain, managed to escape.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. The NTSB’s Jennifer Homendy says the captain, boat owner and others have been interviewed. She says survivors received drug tests and four got alcohol tests that were negative.

The Coast Guard says the boat wasn’t required to have fire sprinklers.