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NTSB releases documents related to Conception fire investigation


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The NTSB released hundreds of pages of investigative documents Wednesday related to the deadly Conception dive boat fire off the Santa Barbara County coast.

The documents include extensive information on the history of Truth Aquatics, the company that operated the Conception, as well as a detailed account of what happened on that day.

According to the documents, crew members told investigators they weren't trained on emergency procedures before the fire broke out. The documents also said one crew member told investigators he saw sparks flash when he plugged his cell phone in hours before the fire.

Photos were also released from the investigation showing the extensive damage.

An NTSB spokesperson told NewsChannel Wednesday that the documents do not list any findings or analysis, but are meant to provide as much factual information to the public in order to be transparent.

34 people were killed when the dive boat caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Labor Day 2019. The captain and four crew members survived.

The owners of Truth Aquatics spoke to NewsChannel in 2019 just after the tragedy.

"It's devastating and we're all so saddened," said Glen Fritzler. "A lot of these customers that come out with us are like family and a lot of them that were on that particular voyage have been coming out with us for 20, 30 years."

The family has not spoken publicly since.

The captain and crew have also not spoken publicly, however, documents said the captain of the Conception had voluntarily made himself available for an interview with investigators on two occasions, but the U.S. Attorney prohibited the NTSB from speaking to him.

"Conception’s captain had many years of experience on the same vessel and interviews indicated he was intimately familiar with the vessel’s history, operations, and maintenance. The owner and surviving crew members therefore referred many of investigators’ questions to the captain, which remain unanswered due to not being able to interview him," the documents said.

It was unclear why the captain was prohibited from speaking with investigators.

The NTSB has been investigating the deadly fire since it happened and had previously said it could take 12 to 18 months for a final report to be released.

The NTSB is scheduled to hold a board meeting on October 20 and vote on findings, probable cause and recommendations, as well as any changes to the draft final report.

An NTSB spokesperson said next month's hearing will be based on the information released publicly Wednesday.

According to court documents obtained earlier this month, criminal charges could be imminent.

The captain of the boat, who could face an unusual federal manslaughter charge, was briefed in July on the evidence prosecutors have against him. It’s the type of meeting often used to persuade a suspect to plead guilty, lawyers for the boat’s owners said in a related lawsuit.

To read the documents released Wednesday, click here.

Related coverage:
TowBoatUS captain remembers responding to Conception tragedy
Special plaque created for the Conception memorial site
Commemorating the one year anniversary of the Conception dive boat tragedy
Congressional hearing probes deadly Conception boat fire

Santa Barbara- S County
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Lindsay Zuchelli

Lindsay Zuchelli is the Executive Producer at NewsChannel 3-12.

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The Associated Press


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