Crew of dive boat that caught fire and killed 34 people say they were not trained in emergency procedures


Crew members of a Southern California dive boat told investigators they were not trained in emergency procedures until a fire broke out last year and killed 34 people, according to federal documents released Wednesday.

Investigators say the cause of the pre-dawn fire aboard the Conception remains undetermined but one possible ignition point was telephones and other electronic devices plugged into outlets.

Crew member Ryan Sims told investigators he saw sparks fly when he plugged in his cell phone hours before the fire.

The boat was carrying 33 passengers on a Labor Day weekend scuba diving expedition last year and was anchored near an island off the southern California coast. The fire started while the passengers were asleep and quickly swept the ship.

All passengers and one crew member sleeping below deck were killed. The other five crew members, including Captain Jerry Boylan, survived. They narrowly escaped after unsuccessful attempts to save the others, authorities said. Boylan made a distress call at 3:14 am saying “I can’t breathe” before abandoning ship.

Several dead in boat fire near Santa Cruz Island
In a document provided by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the 75-foot Conception, based in Santa Barbara Harbor, burns after catching fire in early September 2, 2019, anchored off Santa Cruz Island, in California.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department via Getty Images

Boylan could face federal manslaughter charges, and recent court documents indicate criminal charges are imminent.

Hundreds of pages of documents released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board provide a detailed look at the boat’s last hours on September 2, 2019.

Sims, who had only worked on the boat for three weeks, told investigators he asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire. Boylan reportedly told him, “When we have time.”

“I didn’t know what the procedures were,” Sims said.

Other crew members also said they were unfamiliar with safety procedures.

Sims said he fell asleep after seeing the sparks, and there is no indication in the documents that he reported what he saw.

Sims broke his leg trying to escape the burning boat and sued the shipowner and the company that chartered her, alleging that the Conception was not seaworthy and was operating in a dangerous manner .

The NTSB said the six crew members were sleeping when the fire broke out, a violation of Coast Guard regulations requiring roaming surveillance.

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