May 29, 2023
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33 dead, 1 missing after Santa Barbara boat fire


The diving vessel Conception caught fire in the early morning hours of Sept. 2. A total of 39 passengers and crew were on board. (Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara County Fire)

Updated at noon Sept. 4:
The latest tragedy to hit the Central Coast unfolded in the predawn hours of Labor Day when the scuba diving vessel Conception burst into flames just off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, leaving at least 33 people dead and one missing.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said five crew members were rescued and a total of 39 were on board the 75-foot diving vessel Conception when the fire broke out.
Multiple reports and Business Times’ research shows Conception is owned by Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics. According to the company’s website, the Conception was first launched in 1981, and Truth Aquatics was founded in 1974 by dive boat captain Roy Hauser.
As the blaze on board the Conception lit up the night sky, at least one nearby vessel, Coast Guard and Ventura County firefighters raced to the scene and rescued a handful of crew. At mid-morning on Labor Day there was speculation that dozens might be dead.
Rescue efforts were under way offshore of Santa Cruz Island and the wreckage of the Conception as Ventura County firefighters wrapped up operations. But attention also turned to Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf, where the Conception was based. Santa Barbara County will lead the investigation into what caused the deadly blaze.
Congressman Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, issued the following statement in response to the boat fire.
“This is devastating. My deepest sympathies go out to all impacted by this horrific incident, and I am deeply grateful to our first responders, local fire officials, Coast Guard and all who are assisting on the scene,” he said. “I am in close communication with (Santa Barbara), state and federal authorities to provide answers about this fire, and to make sure that the affected families are supported. A family assistance center has been established at Earl Warren Showgrounds so loved ones can receive the latest information and be connected with resources.”
The Conception is a 75-foot-long scuba diving boat which operated from Santa Barbara and routinely took divers to the Channel Islands.