National Transportation Safety Board staff to review boat records

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have begun their search for the cause of a deadly fire that swept through a fully-occupied charter dive boat off the coast of Southern California early Monday, killing 34 passengers and one crew member.

Five surviving crew members who were berthed on the boat’s deck survived the fire by jumping overboard after radioing a Mayday, then took the charter boat’s tender to a nearby fishing boat for further assistance. They will be interviewed by NTSB investigators later today.

NTSB staff are set to review boat records to try to determine how the fire started, whether the boat was properly equipped with safety gear and whether the crew followed safety protocols, according to the Associated Press and local reporting.

The bodies of at least 20 victims have been recovered, many of whom will need to be identified using DNA analysis and investigators are collecting samples from family members. Searchers have identified what are believed to be four to six additional bodies trapped in the wreckage, but were waiting for safer conditions for recovery.

The Conception, a 75ft charter owned by Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics and leased by Worldwide Diving Adventures, was on a three-day Labor Day holiday excursion. Both companies have been in operation since the mid-1970s and have excellent reputations and safety records, according to local reports.

One of the victims was Worldwide Diving Adventures co-owner, marine biologist Kristy Finstad, 41, who was leading the dive trip and was identified as a victim on social media by her brother.

Among the dead, three sisters, their father and his partner, identified as the girls’ stepmother in reports.

The age range of the victims spreads from 16 to 60 years’ old, according to reports. Officials have not confirmed any victim identities publicly, awaiting DNA confirmation. All of the public identifications have come from family and friends through social media posts.