The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its investigation into the Conception dive boat disaster with a pledge to figure out what led to the fire and sinking that appears to have claimed the lives of 34 people.
“I am 100-percent confident we will determine the cause of this tragedy,” NTSB board member Jennifer L. Homendy said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
The Santa Barbara-based Conception was anchored just offshore from Santa Cruz Island in the early-morning hours on Monday when a fierce fire broke out, apparently trapping 34 people sleeping in bunks on the vessel’s lower deck.
As of Tuesday morning, 20 bodies had been recovered from the scene, and four to six others had been located in the wreckage or on the ocean floor, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
Officials said 14 people remained missing and were presumed dead.
More bodies were recovered during the day Tuesday, sheriff’s Lt. Erik Raney told Noozhawk, but he did not have an exact number.
Five crew members who were on an upper deck were able to leap off the burning boat and survived.
A 16-member NTSB team arrived in Santa Barbara Tuesday morning, Homendy said, and received a briefing on the tragedy from the U.S. Coast Guard and other first responders.
The team expects to be on scene for 7-10 days, Homendy said, and will be collecting and evaluating evidence, interviewing witnesses, and working to piece together what led to the demise of the 75-foot vessel.
The NTSB is asking for the public’s help in providing photos, videos or other evidence that might be helpful in the investigation, Homendy said.
Such items can be shared with the NTSB at email@example.com.
A preliminary report on the disaster likely will be released in about 10 days, Homendy said, with the final report completed in 12-24 months.
The NTSB investigation will be done in coordination with probes of the disaster being conducted by the Coast Guard, the Sheriff’s Department and the county Fire Department.
An FBI evidence collection team also arrived Tuesday to help with the investigation, and was poring over the Vision, the Conception’s Truth Aquatics sister vessel, at Sea Landing at the Santa Barbara Harbor.