All six crew members of the Conception were asleep when the boat caught fire and sank off the coast of Southern California early Sept. 2, killing 34 people, according to a new federal report.
The two-page preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board describes the crew’s attempts to reach the 33 passengers trapped below deck and the crew’s decision, after facing thick smoke and fire, to abandon ship and seek help nearby.
The crew members were sleeping on the top of the boat’s three levels, while the passengers were asleep on the lowest level, within the hull, according to the report. The passengers and one crew member died in the fire.
Awakened by a noise, one of the crew members alerted the others to fire near the back of the deck on which they slept. The captain then sent out a distress call to the Coast Guard, according to the report.
A ladder connecting that top sun deck to the main deck below was on fire, so the crew members jumped down, one of them breaking a leg in the process, according to the report. From there, they tried to access the main deck but were blocked by fire.
The crew tried but failed to open a window and then jumped overboard after being overwhelmed by smoke. The captain and two others swam to a different part of the ship, reboarded and opened a hatch to the engine room, which was on the same deck as the passengers. They boarded a small skiff, picked up the other two crew members in the water and reached a nearby boat, the report said.
Two crew members returned to the Conception to search for survivors, but in the end, there were none.
The preliminary report did not explain the circumstances surrounding the death of the crew member killed in the fire. And the investigation into the cause of the fire is continuing, the report said.