Crew members of the Conception boat that went up in flames off the coast of Southern California on Monday have told officials that they tried to save the 34 passengers that died below deck, but were unable to reach them because of the fire’s intensity, a National Transportation Safety Board official said during a press conference Thursday. “What’s emerging from the interviews is a harrowing story of the last few minutes before the boat was engulfed in flames,” NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said. “They felt that they had done what they could do in a very panicked situation.” Homendy, who is overseeing the agency’s investigation into the tragic disaster, said that crew members attempted to reach the passengers through galley windows, but the windows wouldn’t open.
One crew member said they heard a noise and looked over the side of the boat to find the cause but was met with flames coming up at them, according to Homendy. “He heard no smoke alarm, he smelled no smoke, but he did see flames when he looked over,” she said. “They didn’t hear anything.” According to Homendy, Conception’s age allowed it to have different fire standards compared to newer boats. She said the NTSB is looking at whether those safety standards need to be reassessed. “I definitely have concerns about the ability of those passengers being able to evacuate during a fire,” Homendy said.
Truth Aquatics Inc., the company that owned the Conception, filed a lawsuit on Thursday that asserts they are not liable for any damages from victims’ families because the boat was deemed seaworthy. The suit is filed under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that was also used by owners of the Titanic.