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U.S. Coast Guard Suspends Search For Survivors In Deadly Boat Fire In California


We begin this hour in Southern California, where the U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for survivors in the deadly boat fire early yesterday off Santa Cruz Island. So far, 20 bodies have been recovered from in and around the burned wreckage of the boat, which is now sitting on the sea floor about 60 feet underwater. Authorities say they believe the remaining passengers, most of whom were scuba divers, are dead. Federal and state investigators are now on the scene. Dive teams are there. For more, we're going to bring in NPR's Kirk Siegler, who joins us from the harbor in Santa Barbara. That is where the Conception diving boat set off from.

Hey there, Kirk.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Hello, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Have we learned yet what caused this fire?

SIEGLER: We have not, and in fact, details have been pretty slim so far, partly because they've just been focused on getting bodies recovered. I hate to be grim, but that's just the sad reality here. And also, logistics - you have to consider this is in a pretty remote place, about 20 miles from the harbor here where I'm standing as the crow flies. The boat, as you said, is fully submerged, and federal investigative teams and diving teams are hoping to get inside the wreckage today to begin their piece-by-piece investigation.

A source of mine who pilots charter boats similar to this in Southern California, you know, says that the company itself had a very reputable, longstanding reputation. The Coast Guard backed that up, saying it's passed its federal inspection and safety regulations. But that source said, you know, they'll be looking to make sure that the safety protocol was all followed, and in order to pass these inspections, they would have had to have demonstrated that the exits were there, the fire extinguishers and whatnot. So we just don't have a whole lot of information at this time.

KELLY: What more do we know about the victims of this disaster, the people who were onboard?

SIEGLER: Well, exactly, Mary Louise. I'm standing actually at a makeshift vigil that's popped up, and you can see people from the community coming by and putting flowers here right now, in fact. A little earlier, we spoke with a woman who said her sister was one of the crew onboard and had died, or she at least assumed she was dead at this point. As you can imagine, she was distraught and crying and didn't want to talk for very long, but she said - you know, she told us that her sister died doing what she loved.

We do know as well that many of the passengers on this were part of a three-day charter trip who had come from Santa Cruz up north in northern California in that area and were experienced scuba divers. There was a 17-year-old girl onboard and some parties that had happened and - as well as some people in their 60s, so just a sad situation. And some of the information about the victims is still coming out right now, as next of kin are still being notified.

KELLY: Sure. We also know that some people did survive - five crew members, including the captain.

SIEGLER: Exactly.

KELLY: Will investigators be looking at that and how passengers were not able to make it off?

SIEGLER: They will, and in fact, that's part of the investigation that the NTSB, federal regulators and state authorities are looking at. They're just beginning to interview the surviving crew members today, we're told, and that's certainly a question they're going to be asking. You know, was the crew adequately trained? Were there safety drills, and did the passengers, you know, get adequate safety information and know where all the exits were and all of that? This is a longstanding, reputable company, as we've said. We just don't know at this point - a lot of questions still to be answered in that investigation, a lot of eager family members to know.

KELLY: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler reporting from the harbor at Santa Barbara.

Thank you, Kirk.

SIEGLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.