Callahan & Blaine has significant expertise in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases arising from boating and maritime accidents, including successfully handling the recent Attessa IV super-yacht accident involving a 65 foot fishing boat.
Conception, a commercial diving boat carrying recreational scuba divers, caught fire while anchored near the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, California early Monday morning.
Truth Aquatics, the company that owns Conception, is a well known company operating boats off the Channel Islands. Owner Glen Fritzler won the California Scuba Service Award earlier this year for his pioneering work in the industry.
According to California Diving News, Fritzler built the Conception in 1981 and it was a major part of his life and business.
As of Monday morning Truth Aquatics would not comment on the incident.
In conversation with VC Star about past experiences with Truth Aquatics attorney Joseph Catmull stated:
“What divers are worried about are things like embolisms, or not coming back up. If the entry to the berth was blocked, it is my recollection on that boat there is only one exit and entrance, a staircase you may have seen in some of the website photos. So it isn’t hard to imagine that a fire could have caused tragedy,”
Likewise, college professor Tim Xeriland, of Dallas, also had past experience with Truth Aquatics.
“At night, we slept in bunk beds located below deck. The quarters were cramped, but everyone was there to dive, so it seemed fine. In retrospect, I can imagine how dangerous it would be wake in a smoke-filled cabin in the dead of night,” he said. “As I recall, there was only one exit, and in an emergency, there would be a severe bottleneck. Nothing that occurred during the trip made me think there would be an emergency. The crew was professional and aimed to please.”
Conception Catches Fire
Many aboard the vessel Conception were thought to be sleeping below deck when the fire broke out in the predawn hours. Authorities continued their search Monday for possible survivors as the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s coroner office prepared for a mass casualty incident.
“This isn’t a day we wanted to wake up to for Labor Day and it’s a very tragic event,” said Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester. “I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome.”
Five crew members were already awake when the fire erupted and jumped off the boat, which was 20 yards off shore of the north side of Santa Cruz Island near the Ventura County coast, Rochester said. One crew member remains unaccounted for.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. “We understand the tremendous burden they are under right now.”
Around 3:15 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call of the boat on fire, according to the agency.
In the garbled emergency call, a man says there are 39 people aboard.
“I can’t breathe,” the man frantically says.
The five crew members, two with leg injuries, were rescued by a good Samaritan boat, the Grape Escape, according to the agency.
“You can imagine that of all the scenarios, to be in a remote location, have a fire that occurs, have limited, if any, firefighting capabilities … and to have all of a sudden a fire that spread very, very rapidly — you couldn’t ask for a worse situation,” Brown said.
Shirley Hansen and her husband, Bob, were jarred awake about 3:30 a.m. by the sound of pounding on the side of their 60-foot fishing boat.
The crew had escaped the Conception by jumping into the ocean, retrieving a dinghy and paddling 200 yards to the Hansens’ boat, the Grape Escape, Shirley Hansen said in an interview.
The crew was distraught, some wearing only underwear, she said. One man told the Hansens that his girlfriend was still below deck on the Conception. Another man cried, describing how they had celebrated three passengers’ birthdays hours earlier, including that of a 17-year-old girl who was on the diving trip with her parents.
Shirley Hansen said she could see the Conception ablaze from her boat and said there was so much smoke that she had to use an inhaler.
As the Hansens handed out blankets and clothes to the crew, two of the men got back into the dinghy to see if anyone else had jumped overboard.
“But they came back and there was no one that they found,” Shirley Hansen said.