A 24-second mobile phone clip taken by one of 33 passengers who died on the Conception showed the victims trapped in the smoke-filled, below-deck bunk room. The video was taken at 03:17 on September 2nd 2019.
A man is heard shouting “oh my god, what is that?” amid the noises of smoke alarms and panicked shouts.
The clip was found on the phone of Patricia Ann Beitzinger, a 48-year-old Arizona woman who was on the trip with her partner. It was shown during the afternoon of October 26th at the trial of Jerry Boylan, the former captain of the dive boat. Boylan has been accused of not having a required night watch on the boat and was the first to abandon the burning vessel, rather than trying to save passengers.
US District Judge George Wu had asked the family members on October 25th to step outside the courtroom if they thought that they would be overwhelmed by their emotions. The judge made the request after other photos and videos taken on the three-day diving trip off the Central California coast were introduced as evidence, causing some relatives in attendance to weep audibly.
In her opening statement on October 25th an attorney for Boylan had blamed the owner of the Conception for the disaster. She said that the owner had trained Boylan, 70, when he started out as a deckhand, and who never used a night watch or roving patrol on any of his fleet of three commercial dive boats.
Boylan and four crew members were sleeping in their quarters on the upper deck when the fire started. The NTSB report on the disaster found that the second galley hand was awakened by a sound below. When he looked out, he noticed the fire on the main deck and woke the other crew members sleeping above.
There were two sets of stairs. The stair from the upper deck to the main deck was already blocked by flames, and the crew had to climb or jump down to the main deck; one of them broke his leg in the process.
There, they found that the entrance to the salon, where both the regular staircase to the bunk room and its escape hatch were located, was already engulfed in flames and was impossible to enter. The fire had started in a large plastic trash can on the boat’s main deck, underneath the stairs to the upper deck and just outside the doors to the salon.
One of the first witnesses called by the prosecution had been on the Conception in late August, just before the boat’s final trip days later. Jackie Palmer told the jury that, although the second captain on the boat had conducted a safety briefing for the passengers and pointed out where the escape hatch from the bunk room exited in the salon on the main deck, Palmer said they were never shown where the escape hatch was located in the below-deck bunk room.
Among the allegations against Boylan by federal prosecutors is that he didn’t train or drill his crew on how to use firefighting equipment aboard the Conception. The boat had two fire stations with hoses that could be used to spray seawater from pumps in the engine room, but the second galley hand who had first noticed the fire and lowered himself to the main deck ran straight past one of the fire stations because he had no idea what it was or how to use it, prosecutors said.
French told the jury that he knew how to use the hoses in the fire stations but that he had never done so. According to French, he had been told how to use the fire extinguishers on board and what to do when there was a fire in the engine room. But he said: “I don’t remember any designated fire training days or exercises.”