California boat fire investigators interview the captain and crew

US federal investigators interviewed the captain and crew of dive boat Conception on Wednesday September 4th. The vessel caught fire around 03:15 local time on Monday morning and sank off the island of Santa Cruz, southern California. Of the 33 passengers and six crew, all the passengers, who had been sleeping below deck, and one of the crew, who was also below deck, died in the fire.

The badly burned bodies of all but one of the victims have been recovered.

NTSB experts were spending their first full day of the investigation interviewing witnesses and mapping the wreckage of the 23-meter Conception, which lay upside-down some 20 metres below the surface. The vessel will eventually be raised from the ocean floor.

A separate team inspected the Vision, a similar ship that is operated by the same dive boat company, Truth Aquatics. Truth Aquatics has suspended its dive expeditions during the investigation, which were likely to be detailed and comprehensive. The preliminary findings would be issued in 10 days and the final report would take up to 18 months to complete, the chief investigator said.

The only survivors of the accident, the captain and four crew members, were on deck when the fire broke out. They were able to escape in an inflatable life boat, investigators said.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said that the two exits, a stairway to the galley and an escape hatch might both have been blocked by fire.