SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. — A Filipino American family of five — father Michael Quitasol, and daughters Evan, Nicole and Angela, as well as their stepmother, Fern Sison — were happy to bond over scuba diving when they boarded the 75-foot Conception boat over the Labor Day holiday weekend, to celebrate Michael’s birthday.
But just after 3:00 AM on Monday, while the Quitasol family and the other passengers were sleeping, the commercial vessel caught fire near Santa Cruz Island in Southern California.
There were a total of 39 passengers, 33 guests and six crew members.
Only five people, all crew members, were found alive.
The US Coast Guard says 33 bodies have been recovered — while 1 is still missing.
Susana Solano Rosas, the girl’s biological mother, expressed her heartbreak on Facebook, saying that while authorities do not have much to say to them, they are thankful for everyone’s support, prayers and good wishes.
Meanwhile, as search and rescue teams returned to shore, a memorial for the 34 victims of Monday’s deadly boat fire off the Santa Cruz Island continued to grow.
Locals said the Conception was a well-known boat in the area with a stellar record. Many of the tearful passersby declined to speak on camera, only showing their emotion.
Some brought flowers while others left messages with tears in their eyes as grief-stricken community members showed their support for the families of the 34 people presumed dead.
As mourners continued to pay their respects, investigators studied another boat owned by the same company, Truth Aquatics.
The national transportation safety board is now trying to determine the cause of the deadly fire.
“There is information that we will want to obtain. We look at the vessel. We look at the crew, the operations and we look at the environment in which they’re operating. So obviously we’re going to want to look at training,” said Jennifer Homendy, National Transportation Safety Board. “That includes firefighter training. We’re going to look at survival factors, we’re going to want to know how what fire extinguishers were onboard. We’re going to want to know were their lifejackets onboard. Were their lifeboats? Those are –that’s the type of information we’re going to want to find out.”
Investigators are also asking the public for help with any pictures or video of the Conception and the incident.
Investigators say it will take 7-10 days for a preliminary report; however it make take more than a year before a full and final report is released.