A California scuba dive boat was operating in violation of Coast Guard regulations when crew members were sleeping and a pre-dawn fire killed 34 people, authorities say.
The finding leaves grieving families wondering if a required night watchman could have saved their loved ones who perished when a deadly blaze broke out on board the Conception on September 2.
Thursday’s disclosure from the National Transportation Safety Board found that all six crew members were asleep aboard the vessel at the time of the fire.
The Conception’s Certificate of Inspection, issued by the Coast Guard, requires a “roving patrol at all times” when passengers’ bunks are occupied.
The NTSB’s findings could aid federal authorities conducting a criminal investigation into the fire, who could bring charges under a statute known as seaman’s manslaughter.
The law was enacted during the 19th century to punish negligent captains, engineers and pilots for deadly steamboat accidents that killed thousands.
Five crew members, including the captain, were asleep on the vessel’s second deck and survived. The sixth, a 26-year-old deckhand named Allie Kurtz , was sleeping below and perished with the boat’s 33 passengers.
Kurtz’s grandmother, Doris Lapporte, said she was too distraught to comment on the NTSB’s findings, issued days before the family planned to scatter her granddaughter’s ashes at sea.
“I have nightmares every day about her going up in flames,” Lapporte said, crying.
“This isn’t the time to talk about how angry I am or how I feel.”
The cause of the blaze has yet to be determined.
Recovery crews raised the wreckage of the burned-out boat on Thursday from waters off Santa Cruz Island where the vessel was anchored the night of the tragedy.
Douglas Schwartz, an attorney for the Conception’s owner, Truth Aquatics Inc., said in a statement that a crew member was awake shortly before the fire, which started around 3am.
He said the crewman checked “on and around the galley area” around 2.30am, with the first mayday call from the captain transmitted at 3.14am.
The NTSB report did not mention potential charges, which would be part of the criminal probe.