SANTA BARBARA (CBS/CNN) — All 34 people killed aboard the MV Conception the night last year when the dive boat caught fire off California’s Santa Cruz Island died of smoke inhalation and suffered burns after losing consciousness, police said, describing the coroner’s reports.
“One had a flashlight in their hand. Another had a cellphone in their hand,” Lt. Erik Raney of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said. “Some of the victims had various types of clothing on. One had a jacket. One victim had on sandals. One had some type of shoe on.”
It isn’t clear if they fell asleep with the cellphone and flashlight in their hands, “or maybe they were trying to escape,” Raney said.
The 75-foot boat caught fire and sank in the middle of the night Sept. 2, 2019, killing 33 passengers and one crew member. The only survivors were the captain and four other crew members who were all asleep above deck. They said they awoke to find the boat ablaze and were unable to reach the sleeping passengers had to jump into the water to save their lives.
Based on the findings, there is no way to determine if the victims were trying to escape, the lieutenant said.
“We know all of the victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The burn damage happened after they died,” said Raney.
Raney described the coroner’s 34 reports as sterile, saying they contained no speculation. They did contain descriptions of the bodies and noted any clothing or items in their possession, he said.
As each of the victims came in, forensic technicians photographed their bodies and coroner’s detectives and forensic pathologists examined them, he said.
All of the victims were out of their bunks, in the berthing area. The boat was destroyed by fire and, when it capsized, the victims were displaced, Raney said.
The Conception was pulled from the water in mid-September and taken to Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
The Conception caught fire after 3 a.m. Labor Day, about 20 miles off the coast. It was the last day of a three-day diving trip.
By 7:20 a.m., the ship began to sink in 64 feet of water. The boat had burned down to the water line, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said in the days after the tragedy. Ventura County firefighters reached the boat within 15 minutes but it was already engulfed in flames, the fire department said.
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