What Caused the Truth Aquatics Dive Boat Fire?
Investigators from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the Truth Aquatics Conception fire. While the official cause of the Conception fire (or causes) will likely not be known for months, Baum Hedlund attorney Clay Robbins III believes the investigation needs to address fundamental questions to give the victims’ families the answers they deserve.
Mr. Robbins is a veteran trial attorney with decades of experience litigating complex cases. He is currently representing several passengers injured while on a lava boat tour in Hawaii that ventured too close to an active lava flow from the Kilauea volcano in July 2018. Many passengers were injured when lava bombs rained down on them. He was also a certified diver for 20 years and conducted dozens upon dozens of dives either on his own boat or with outfits like the one that chartered the Conception.
“In the Conception dive boat fire,” Robbins says, “there are fundamental questions that need to be answered:
- What caused the dive boat fire?
- What are the reasons people aboard the Conception died?
“Just because something caused the Conception fire, that doesn’t necessarily mean people had to die. Did they die from an explosion? Fire? Smoke inhalation? There are many questions that need to be answered. The origin of this fire may well have been leakage of volatile gas. Where did it start? In the galley? In the engine compartment? If there was a leak, should there have been a warning the moment the leak sprung? Was the boat equipped with a warning for gas, whether diesel, propane, or butane leakage, and if not, why not?”
The possibility of a lithium battery spark causing this fire is one of many factors our team will be investigating. From a product liability legal perspective, we want to focus on:
- The cause of the fire and its immediate conflagration
- Ignition sources
- Electrical components
- Flammable accelerants
- Suppliers of materials that may have accelerated the fire
- The boat’s possible defective design
- Emergency exit access
- Sleeping configuration
- Emergency lighting
- Fire alarms
- The pre-trip safety briefing
As for Conception’s design, Baum Hedlund lawyer Timothy A. Loranger recalled his experience as a passenger aboard the ship, noting how precarious it would be for passengers to escape a fire with only two points of egress: stairs and a hatch.
“The lack of another egress point from the guest quarters below deck seems like a glaring safety weakness,” says Loranger, who served on the trial team in the Seattle duck boat accident litigation. “I can’t even imagine how dozens of people in such tight quarters would be able to safely exit a smoke-filled cabin in the dead of night.”
California Boat Fire Victims
Following are the 34 victims who were aboard the Conception, a California scuba dive boat (The information following each name is based on what is currently available to the public):
- Diana Adamic – An avid diver and Humane Educator at Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, Diana met her husband, Steve Salika, while working at Apple.
- Juha Pekka Ahopelto – A 50-year-old from Sunnyvale.
- Neal Baltz – An electrical engineer, Baltz lived in southern Phoenix with his longtime girlfriend, Patricia Beitzinger, who also perished in the Conception scuba diving boat fire.
- Patricia Beitzinger – Patricia and her boyfriend, Neal, were avid travelers who took diving trips to Micronesia and the Caribbean Netherlands.
- Kendra Chan – A 26-year-old biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service from Los Altos.
- Scott Chan – American High School (Fremont) physics teacher, also from Los Altos. Mr. Chan was on the scuba diving excursion with his daughter, Kendra.
- Adrian Dahood-Fritz – A 40-year-old research scientist with California’s Ocean Protection Council and avid photographer who moved to Sacramento from Taylor, Texas 15 months before the tragedy.
- Sanjeeri Deopujari – A 31-year-old dentist from Stamford who was married to Kaustubh Nirmal.
- Justin Caroll Dignam – A water polo coach from Anaheim Hills who founded a payroll company and leaves behind a wife and two children.
- Berenice Felipe – A friend of Tia Salika, Berenice was a student at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz.
- Lisa Fiedler – A hairdresser, nature photographer and experienced diver.
- Kristy Finstad – A diving instructor and marine biologist, Finstad ran Worldwide Diving Adventures with her husband, Bill. She was leading the Labor Day scuba tour.
- Andrew Fritz – A 40-year-old photographer and photography teacher who moved to Sacramento from Taylor, Texas, with his wife, Adrian Dahood-Fritz.
- Dan Garcia – An Apple employee and a diving enthusiast from Berkeley, CA, he was on the boat with his girlfriend Yulia Krashennaya.
- Marybeth Guiney – An ocean enthusiast dedicated to protecting sharks and other sea life. Marybeth lived in the same Santa Monica condominium complex as Charles McIlvain and worked as a sales director.
- Yuko Hatano – A 39-year-old from San Jose.
- Yulia Krashennaya – A product manager at Spiralinks and an avid diver, the 40-year-old was on the trip with her boyfriend, Dan Garcia.
- Allie Kurtz – A 25-year-old from Cincinnati, Kurtz left the movie industry to take up her passion of scuba diving. Kurtz was a confirmed crew member on board the Conception.
- Xiang Lin – A partner at Acorn Summit Ventures who focused on artificial intelligence and loved mountain climbing and scuba diving.
- Charles “Chuck” McIlvain – Known for his work on films including “Spider-Man” and “Green Lantern,” Chuck was a visual effects designer for Walt Disney Imagineering. Chuck loved diving, mountain biking, and snowboarding.
- Carrie McLaughlin – A senior software engineer at Brilliant, based in San Francisco, and coworker of Kristian Takvam.
- Kaustubh Nirmal – A business analyst at Merrill Lynch in New York City, the 44-year-old lived in Stamford with his wife, Sanjeeri Deopujari.
- Angela Quitasol – A 7th grade science teacher at Sierra Middle School in Stockton and Michael Quitasol’s daughter.
- Evan Quitasol – A former Kaiser nurse and Michael Quitasol’s daughter.
- Michael Quitasol – A nurse who worked at Kaiser hospitals in Modesto and Manteca. Michael, his three adult daughters (Evan, Nicole and Angela), and his wife (Fernisa Sison), were on the Conception scuba dive excursion to celebrate his birthday.
- Nicole Quitasol – Michael Quitasol’s daughter who lived and worked in the San Diego area.
- Steve Salika – A senior manager at Apple who worked for the company for 30 years. Steve was aboard Conception with his wife, Diana Adamic, their daughter, Tia, and Tia’s friend from school, Berenice.
- Tia Salika – One of the youngest to perish in this tragedy, Tia was reportedly celebrating her 17th birthday on the Conception. She was a student at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz.
- Sunil Singh Sandhu — A citizen of Singapore who worked in Northern California as a senior scientist at PointCloud Inc.
- Fernisa Sison – Like her husband, Michael Quitasol, Fernisa was a nurse who worked at the Kaiser medical offices in Stockton.
- Ted Strom – A staff physician at the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center who was also an associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
- Kristian Takvam – A vice president of engineering at Brilliant and coworker of Carrie McLaughlin.
- Wei Tan – A 26-year-old from Singapore who lived in California and worked as a data scientist for Evidation Health.
- Vaidehi Williams – An employee of the Soquel Creek Water District who gave presentations about water conservation to students and was a wife and mother of two.
Conception Dive Boat Fire Investigation Updates
- U.S. Coast Guard Exempted Truth Aquatics Conception From Vital Safety Rules | Nov. 25, 2019
- First Conception Boat Fire Lawsuit Filed | Nov. 11, 2019
- Truth Aquatics Suspends Operations as Conception Investigation Continues | Oct. 1, 2019
- Investigators Focusing on Conception Power Outlets | Sept. 20, 2019
- Conception Crew Member Files Lawsuit Against Truth Aquatics, Worldwide Diving Adventures, and Glen Fritzler | Sept. 19, 2019
- Conception Victim Families Can Contact Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office to Seek Funding for Counseling and Funeral Costs | Sept. 17, 2019
- Safety Experts Say Conception Dive Boat Was a Fire Trap | Sept. 16, 2019
- Conception Pulled to the Surface | Sept. 13, 2019