Jerry Boylan is the captain of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based 75-foot dive boat “Conception” that caught fire in the middle of the night just 20 yards from shore with 34 people trapped below deck with no way to escape.
While it is not confirmed that the ship’s operator was at the helm, according to the dive boat website, he is in command of the dive vessel “Conception.” According to a list of California dive boat captains, Boylan is named as skipper of the “Conception.”
The trip was a $665 Labor Day weekend dive trip to the Channel Islands.
The captain of the ship jumped off and was rescued, it can be heard on US Coast Guard radio communication with the captain. Thirty-four are unaccounted for and presumed dead.
The boat was on a three-day trip to the Channel Islands off the California coast with 34 passengers and five crew when it caught fire at 3 a.m.
By late Tuesday morning, the remains of 25 were found.
Authorities also said that the vessel is supposed to crew member that acts as a night-watchman. That too is part of the investigation.
Authorities said when the fire broke out, all 39 below deck were likely asleep. When asked if they were asleep when they “perished,” Brown said that would be determined as part of the investigation.
Brown said there has as of yet only been visual examinations of the bodies recovered so far. He said that while the Los Angeles Coroner’ Office sent mobile coolers and additional personnel, no autopsies have been performed so cause and manner of death have not been identified.
Brown said that DNA testing is being used to identify victims because it was an “extremely hot fire” and there was “extreme thermal damage” to the bodies of the victims.
When asked if anyone below deck made it out Brown said there was no indication that was the case.
The ship has three decks. The lowest is the sleeping deck, the second deck is the salon and galley are and main deck for passengers and the top deck is known as the bridge and that’s for the crew.
Brown said the 39 below deck “trapped.”
“That does appear to be exactly what happened,” he said. The “stairwell and escape hatch were blocked by fire.”
Rochester said the takeaway for other charters is to make sure that “everybody understands what the emergency escape routes are prior to departure,” she said, adding “I would suggest” adequate preparation, training, drills and fire exercises be carried out.
The vessel is equipped with a “fixed firefighting system in engine room” and portable fire extinguishers at both exit and entry points, “on bridge and on main deck” and as of the last inspection, “all apparatus was accounted for,” Rochester said. Lower deck fire extinguishers were not mentioned or asked about at a press briefing in Santa Barbara Tuesday.
Authorities said there are 14 people still missing but at least four and possibly six bodies were seen in the wreckage.
Based in Santa Barbara, the boat is owned by Glen Fritzler of Truth Aquatics Inc. Many have taken to social media to recall their trips aboard the dive boat and offer condolences, and express their shock and sadness.
“The Conception was my first boat dive off the coast of Santa Barbara. The Channel Island trip is a bit of a tradition & rite of passage for newly certified California divers. tight bunk/berth areas. The Conception has been around since the 80’s. My heart goes out to the families,” one posted to Twitter.
A week after, investigators served warrants at Truth Aquatics seeking training, safety and maintenance records, the Los Angeles Times reported. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office investigators were seen carrying boxes during the search.
As part of its “major investigation,” the National Transportation Safety Board toured another of the Truth Aquatics dive boats, this one called ‘Vision.’
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Coast Guard Asked the Captain Who Escaped if he Could Get Back Onboard & Open a Hatch So 34 People Below Deck Could Escape
At 3:14 a.m., the US Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles can be head on the Ventura County Marine 16 scanner channel reporting a Mayday call for a vessel in distress.
Through static, an US Coast Guard dispatcher can be heard in a controlled but desperate voice speaking to the captain who says the vessel is on fire. The captain says he has 33 on board. The dispatcher then confirms that there are 34 in total, including one crew member trapped below deck. He urgently asks the captain if he is on the boat. The Coast Guard asks the captain if he can get back on board the boat and unlock the hatch door so people can escape:
“They cannot get off …are they locked inside the boat? Can you get back on board and unlock the doors so they can get off? Was that all the crew that jumped off?”
“Is this the captain?”
“There’s no escape hatch,” the dispatcher asks. He asks if the captain has fire-fighting equipment.
He apparently did not.
At a briefing, while Ventura County fire said it was now a “recovery” operation, US Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said they’re combing the shore looking for survivors. The fire occurred just 20 yards from shore at Platts Harbor on the north side of Santa Cruz Island.
The boat was said to be in “full compliance” and the boat owner was with Coast Guard.
2. The Captain & 4 Other Crew Jumped Off the Boat & Were Rescued by a Vessel Named ‘Grape Escape’
Rochester said that five crew were awake and jumped off the boat. She said that she did not know if there was an explosion. She said the Mayday report was for a fire.
The Ventura County Fire Department said it “responded to boat fire off the north side of Santa Cruz Island …” and it’s reported that five crew were rescued. The Associated Press says the crew were asleep on the top deck and were rescued. All 34 people below are unaccounted for, the AP reported quoting Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll.
Twitter emergency scanner accounts from Los Angeles and Ventura County reported that 34 are dead and a “coastline search now underway seemingly as a contingency but units are reporting the info from the boat crew was definitive.”
The first reports were that a “fully involved” fire aboard the vessel in Platts Harbor in Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. “…reportedly 30+ souls on board, rescues are in progress. Numerous resources on scene & responding including private boats, USCG copters, FD boats.”
Reports said that five “crew escaped per the Captain of the boat, 1 being treated for a broken leg. The remainder of the persons on board are unaccounted for. Being treated as a crime scene, FF’s knocking down fire while trying to not sink the remains of the boat.”
3. The ‘Conception’ Dive Boat Carries 46 People & Holds 1,600 Gallons Plus Scuba Diving Equipment Which Includes Oxygen Tanks. It Was Stolen & Run Aground in 2005
According to its website, the vessel Conception holds “46 people maximum, 13 double bunks, 20 single bunks.” The craft holds 1600 gallons of fuel. It has rescue rafts and jackets for 110 passengers.
It says it has a 16-foot chase boat also known as a shadow boat. It’s not clear if that craft was near the main dive yacht.
In 2005, the then-$1 million craft was stolen, it was reported. “A thief made off with one of Santa Barbara’s most popular dive boats early Wednesday morning, crashing into and partially sinking a fishing boat during an erratic exit from the harbor before the vessel ran aground in an area dubbed the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” a report from the time read.
It was later reported that a “drifter,” or “transient homeless” man, Donald Kelly, stole the boat from the Santa Barbara Harbor. Twelve hours after it was reported stolen, police found the vessel “on the rocks near Vandenberg Air Force Base.” Police at the time said, Kelley, then 41, “started up the ‘Conception’ and hit three other boats on his way out of the harbor…” including a boat which was scuttled and sunk. A report said that the damage was not as serous as to “write it off as a loss.” Kelley was “found about a quarter-mile from the beached boat, and was carrying food items stolen from the galley…” and was charged with grand theft. One report said Kelley was found with a container of Dijon mustard when caught.
4. People Who Have Been on the Vessel Posted to Social Media, Shocked & Saddened
People who have been on the boat posted to social media their shock.
“I have been on dive trips on this boat many times and cannot imagine how something like this could happen.”
“The Conception was my first boat dive off the coast of Santa Barbara. The Channel Island trip is a bit of a tradition & rite of passage for newly certified California divers. tight bunk/berth areas. The Conception has been around since the 80’s. My heart goes out to the families.”
“Condolences to all the friends and families of those who were lost. This is a horrible tragedy and our hearts go out to all and to the Truth Aquatics team who always treated us well and safely. God Bless.”
In the post from Trust Aquatics, which simply supplies information about agencies involved, dozens commented that some of the best experiences of their lives were aboard on of the charter’s boats. And at least one said they’d trusted their lives to Boylan.
“I’ve trusted Captain Jerry more than once with my life. He operates with safety foremost in his mind and never compromises when it comes to guests or crew. I have never been aboard another vessel or dove with another operator I trust as much as Truth Aquatics. I know this was something unforeseen, impossible to prevent, and I know the crew would do everything possible to minimize a negative outcome. My heart aches as I pray for families anxiously awaiting news. The Truth Aquatics family is in my prayers. May you find comfort together.”
5. Boylan is the Commander of the Vessel ‘Conception’ & May Have Been the Captain That Escaped
According to its website, the captain of the Conception is Jerry Boylan. It’s not been confirmed that Boylan was operating the craft at the time of the fire and sinking. US Coast Guard reports show he escaped the deadly incident at sea.
Truth Aquatics says Boylan has been at sea his whole life. His father was a US Coast Guard officer. He began diving at age 5. He’s been piloting dive boats at Truth Aquatics since 1985. He has “captained all of the Truth Aquatics liveaboard vessels as well as other boats in the sport diving and commercial marine industries” and is “in command of the Conception and enjoys showing others the beauty of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands.”
This is video of a 2018 dive trip aboard Truth Aquatics vessels.