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Santa Barbara- S County

Commemorating the one year anniversary of the Conception dive boat tragedy

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - It feels as though more than one year has passed since the Conception dive boat tragedy, a gut-wrenching trauma that took the lives of 34 people on Labor Day of 2019. 

This year, arguably those hurting most -- the families of the victims -- reached out to help others heal.

They contributed a banner of gratitude in honor of the first responders, divers and other agencies that helped retrieve their loved ones from the ocean. 

"September second. That is going to be a day of remembrance indefinitely," said Suzanne Grimmesey,  with Santa Barbara Behavioral Wellness. 

Grimmesey said she keeps in touch with most of the victims' families.

"The families are stronger than any human that I've ever seen. They have really connected with one another."

Now, one year later, relatives of the 33 passengers and one crew member who perished await answers that may never come. What sparked the predawn fire the final morning of a three day excursion?

The youngest victim was 16; the oldest was 62. They came from as far as Tennessee and Connecticut and, right along the California coast.

Among the passengers were two local women: Wei Tan of Goleta and Allie Kurtz, the lone female crew member. Both were 26.

Husbands and wives. Parents and children. Ocean-loving friends. All had signed up for a charter dive trip through Truth Aquatics, the family owned-and-run dive boat company. The Santa Barbara operation was renown worldwide for its stellar reputation for more than 40 years.

The owners, Glen Fritzler and his wife, Dana, and their daughter, Ashley, spoke to NewsChannel in 2019, days after the tragedy.

"It's devastating and we're all so saddened," Glen said to NewsChannel reporter Beth Farnsworth. "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."

"This is crushing," Ashley said. "This is crushing on so many levels that words don't suffice."

The Fritzler family has not spoken publicly since.

Conception's charred hull was towed to the Ventura coast, then trucked to a secure site where forensics teams have scoured every inch of the wreckage. The public was told the investigation would take a year at the least, maybe two. Within weeks, the Coast Guard issued a wide range of new safety guidelines.

And, just this week, the NTSB announced that its final report on the Conception fire investigation will be "voted on" and "wrapped up" on October 20.

"So, it becomes another thread of who were are as a community," Grimmesey said.

In the meantime, there is a place of solace, a seaside memorial anchored at the breakwater's edge. And, that beautiful banner of gratitude from the families will hang for a short time, in honor of those who brought their loved ones back home from the sea.

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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3.

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