Watchman could have saved lives in California boat fire

LOS ANGELES

The lack of a required night watchman aboard a scuba dive boat delayed the detection of a fast-moving fire that trapped and killed 34 people below deck as the vessel was anchored off the Southern California coast last year, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The predawn fire aboard the Conception is one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters, prompting criminal and safety investigations. The Sept. 2, 2019, tragedy killed 33 passengers and one crew member on a Labor Day weekend expedition near an island off Santa Barbara.

Investigators told the National Transportation Safety Board that because some of the recovered bodies were wearing shoes, they believe the victims were awake and trying to escape before being overcome with smoke. Coroner reports list smoke inhalation as the cause of death for all.

The absence of the required roving patrol, investigators said, delayed detection of the fire, allowing it to grow beyond the six-member crew's firefighting capabilities, hampering evacuation efforts and directly leading to the high number of fatalities.

Board member Jennifer Homendy, who traveled to Santa Barbara in 2019 and toured a sister ship of the Conception, blasted the captain, Jerry Boylan, and owner, Truth Aquatics, during the hearing. She said the tragedy shouldn't be called an accident.

“I hate the term accident in this case because, in my opinion, it is not an accident if you fail to operate your company safely,” Homendy said.

Coast Guard records show the Con....

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