Only 1 person remains missing from dive boat fire

National Transportation Safety Board Board member Jennifer Homendy, left, and Jason Neubauer of the U.S. Coast Guard inspect the Vision, a sister vessel to the dive boat Conception at Santa Barbara Harbor on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019 in Santa Barbara, Calif. A fire raged through a boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California Coast on Monday, Sept. 2, leaving multiple people dead. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa )

Only 1 person remains missing from a deadly fire that tore through a scuba diving boat off Southern California's coast

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Only one person remained missing Wednesday after searchers recovered 33 bodies from the charred underwater wreckage of a dive boat that caught fire off the Southern California coast and sank on Labor Day.

Among the victims were an engineer for Apple who went on the trip with his wife and daughter to celebrate the teen's 17th birthday, a special effects designer for Disney, a nature photographer, a nurse and a physics teacher from Northern California who was with his 26-year-old daughter.

Five crew members, including the captain, managed to escape the Conception after Monday's pre-dawn fire that engulfed the boat as the victims slept below decks near the island of Santa Cruz during a three-day scuba diving excursion. The vessel eventually sank and overturned, making the recovery of bodies challenging.

The only crewmember to die was 26-year-old Allie Kurtz, who quit her corporate job at Paramount Pictures to work on dive boats and had recently been promoted to deckhand on the Conception.

She was sleeping with the other divers below deck when flames moved quickly through the 75-foot (23-meter) vessel, blocking a narrow stairway and an escape hatch leading to the upper decks.

DNA will be needed to identify the victims. Authorities will use the same rapid analysis tool that identified victims of the deadly wildfire that devastated the Northern California town of Paradise last year, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.

Apple engineer Steve Salika and his wife, Diana Adamic, went on the trip with their daughter Tia Salika to celebrate the teen's 17th birthday, company senior vice president Deirdre O'Brien told The Mercury News newspaper. Apple colleague, Dan Garcia, joined them.

O'Brien said in a statement that Salika's "energy and enthusiasm touched so many people across our company " during his 30-year career there, and that Garcia "was as passionate about his job at Apple as he was about his love of diving. Both leave many friends behind and will be deeply missed."

Another diver aboard was visual effects designer Charles McIlvain, who was known for his work on films such as "Spider-Man" and "Green Lantern."

His wife, Jasmine McIlvain, said in a family statement that he was with their close friend Marybeth Guiney, who was also the couple's neighbor in Santa Monica.

Both lived their lives to the fullest, according to the statement.

"His laugh was the greatest and his smile could light up the dark," the family said in a statement. "He embraced life with exceptional joy, openness and humor, and all who knew him felt that warmth."

McIlvain worked as a visual effects designer for Walt Disney Imagineering and a pipeline engineer and technical animation supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Culver City Councilman Alex Fisch on Tuesday adjourned a council meeting in honor of McIlvain, his close friend.

"I can't emphasize enough the unique combination of creativity, intelligence and wonderful presence that he had," Fisch said.

Another passenger was Lisa Fiedler, a 52-year-old hairdresser and photographer from the community of Mill Valley north of San Francisco, her mother, Nancy Fiedler, told San Francisco's ABC affiliate, KGO television.

"Everybody loved her," her mother said. "She was a kind, gentle person."

Susana Rosas of Stockton, California, posted that her three daughters — Evan, Nicole and Angela Quitasol — were with their father Michael Quitasol and stepmother Fernisa Sison. Evan Quitasol was a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center of Stockton, where her father and Sison had worked.

Angela Quitasol was a science teacher at a middle school in Stockton, and Nicole worked for a Coronado restaurant called Nicky Rottens.

"Everybody's devastated," said Dominic Selga, Sison's ex-husband. "What caused the fire, that's the big question, that's what we all want to know."

The fire started shortly after 3 a.m. Monday as the boat sat anchored in Platt's Harbor off Santa Cruz Island, among the rugged, wind-swept isles that form Channel Islands National Park.

Those aboard included students from Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, a public charter school for grades 7 through 12, the school said.

Scott Chan, a physics teacher at American High School in Fremont, was there too with his 26-year-old daughter, said Brian Killgore, a spokesman for the Fremont Unified School District.

"His students knew him to be an innovative and inspiring teacher who developed a passion for physics among his students," the district said in a statement.

Other divers who died were an Arizona couple, Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz, according to ABC affiliate KNXV-TV in Phoenix.

"They went to heaven doing something they loved together," Neal's father, John Baltz, told the television station.

Kristy Finstad, a marine biologist and co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures in Santa Cruz, was leading the scuba tour.

Finstad had done hundreds of dives in the Channel Islands, where she first swam with her father as a toddler, according to her company's website.

Finstad did research for the Australian Institute of Marine Science and wrote a restoration guidebook for the California Coastal Commission.

"My mission is to inspire appreciation for our underwater world," she wrote on her company's website.

Dave Reid, who runs an underwater camera manufacturing business with his wife, Terry Schuller, traveled on the Conception and two other boats in Truth Aquatics' fleet and said the crews would meticulously in go over safety instruction, pointing out life jackets, exits, fire extinguishers and other things.

Coast Guard records show the boat's owners quickly addressed all safety violations over the last five years.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the fire.

___

Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California, and Watson from San Diego. Associated Press writers John Antczak and John Rogers in Los Angeles and Janie Har in San Francisco and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this story.

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