SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Thirty-nine avid divers, families and crew members on board the Conception were resting after a day of diving and gourmet meals when flames engulfed the vessel in the predawn hours of Labor Day.
Most of the passengers had come from several towns in the San Francisco Bay area to dive among colorful underwater sea life for three days, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
Only five people — all crew members — were found alive and the bodies of 20 people have been recovered off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. The search for survivors has been suspended after crews searched on the sea for close than 24 hours.
While the identities of those on board of the Conception have not been released by authorities, here’s what we know about a few of them:
A marine biologist who grew up swimming off the state’s Channel Islands and the owner of a Santa Cruz-based diving company was on board the Conception, her brother said.
Kristy Finstad was leading a dive trip on the vessel, Brett Harmeling wrote in a Facebook post.
Finstad is the owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures, a local company that chartered the Conception dive boat from Truth Aquatics, business records show.
She had “thousands of dives under her belt” and studied marine life in the Tahitian Islands, Costa Rica and Australia, according to her company’s website.
“My mission is to inspire appreciation for our underwater world. I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the service of helping people invest in experiences of a lifetime,” she said in her biography.
Finstad and her husband had also sailed across the South Pacific “to find new and amazing places” for their clients.
“Thank You ALL for your unconditional love and support during this incredibly tragic time. My family and I truly appreciate it. No final word on my sister Kristy; however, it is likely she has transitioned to be with the good Lord,” Harmeling wrote Tuesday on Facebook.
Kohls was the galley cook and deckhand on the Conception, his brother says.
The lifelong surfer and father of a daughter was typically making breakfast for the passengers on the ship around 4 a.m., James Kohls told reporters Monday as he waited for news of his brother.
Allie Kurtz felt most at home diving in the ocean, her mother said.
Cherie McDonough flew to California from Cincinnati, Ohio, after she heard about the fire on the Conception diving boat. Her 25-year-old daughter was a passenger on the ship, she said.
Kurtz worked for Paramount Pictures for several years but “wanted to follow her dreams of the ocean, the sea, diving,” her mother told reporters at a memorial at Santa Barbara Harbor.
“She was a go-getter,” her mother said. “She loved it here, and she loved the boat. She loved diving,”
McDonough collapsed to the ground and began to sob when she saw the photo of her daughter at the memorial. There were 34 candles for the 34 people who are presumed dead.
The message beneath the photo said: “I love you Allie — and you know I always will. I’ll miss you forever.”
Physics teacher Raymond (Scott) Chan was on board the Conception with his daughter, Fremont Unified School District spokesman Brian Killgore said.
“Mr. Chan was a beloved teacher at AHS among students and colleagues,” the district said in a statement. “His students knew him to be an innovative and inspiring teacher who developed a passion for physics among his students.”
Chan had been teaching two AP physics classes within the district for the past three years, the statement said.
“His loss is a tremendous tragedy for our school district.”
Arizona resident Neal Baltz was on the diving boat that went up in flames, his father, John Baltz, told CNN affiliate KNXV.
A family of five
Five members of a Stockton, California, family were aboard the boat, Dominic Selga told CNN affiliate KOVR.
Selga said his mother, Fernisa Sison, was on board with her husband, Michael Quitasol, and his three stepsisters, Angela Quitasol, Evan Quitasol and Nicole Quitasol.