Family of 5, charter school students, among those presumed dead in boat fire

A family of five, two charter school students and a marine biologist are among the 34 people presumed dead after a diving boat caught fire Monday morning off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, north of Los Angeles.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday that it was halting search efforts for any survivors to focus on a recovery mission for the remaining passengers and one crew member unaccounted for after the boat caught fire early Monday morning.

Susana Solano Rosas identified three of her daughters and their father — Evanmichel Solano Quitasol, Nicole Storm Quitasol, Angela Rose Quitasol and Michel Storm Quitasol — as some of the passengers who were part of the diving excursion aboard the 75-foot commercial vessel called the Conception.

Her daughter's stepmother, who was not identified, was also on the boat, according to Rosas.

"The authorities do not have much to say to us," Rosas said on Facebook Tuesday. "Thank you to all of you for your support prayers and good wishes."

Pacific Collegiate School, a charter school located in Santa Cruz, said that two of its students aboard the Conception with family members. The school identified students Berenice Felipe, Tia Salinka and Salinka's parents as four people on board, in a letter addressed to the Pacific Collegiate School community.

"While this was not a school sponsored trip, our hearts and thoughts are with the families of the victims and those yet missing, particularly those of our students and parents on board," the school said in a separate statement posted to its website.

The mother of Allie Kurtz, 25, confirmed to NBC News that her daughter was on the trip and is presumed dead. Kurtz loved diving and "was following her dream," her mother said.

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Dozens killed after boat catches fire off California coast
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Dozens killed after boat catches fire off California coast
In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a boat fire off the coast of southern California, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has launched several boats to help over two dozen people "in distress" off the coast of southern California. (Ventura County Fire Department via AP)
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, firefighters work to extinguish a dive boat engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast Monday morning, Sept. 2, 2019. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a boat fire off the coast of southern California, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has launched several boats to help over two dozen people "in distress" off the coast of southern California. (Ventura County Fire Department via AP)
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department a dive boat is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast Monday morning, Sept. 2, 2019. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a boat fire off the coast of southern California, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard said it has launched several boats to help over two dozen people "in distress" off the coast of southern California. (Ventura County Fire Department via AP)
A memorial outside Truth Aquatics for the victims of the Conception boat fire, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. A fire raged through a boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving multiple people dead and hope diminishing that any of the more than two dozen people still missing would be found alive. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
Orlando Aldana, 42, of Santa Barbara, lights candles in honor of the victims at the growing memorial for those caught in the fire on the Conception boat, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, in Santa Barbara, Calif. A fire raged through the boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving multiple people dead and hope diminishing that any of the more than two dozen people still missing would be found alive. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
JJ Lambert, 38, and his fiancee, Jenna Marsala, 33, hang up a dive flag in remembrance of the victims of the Conception boat fire at a memorial site on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, in Santa Barbara, Calif. A fire raged through the boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving multiple people dead and hope diminishing that any of the more than two dozen people still missing would be found alive. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
A Ventura County Fire Department truck leaves U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
An FBI agent arrives at U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, as multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
FBI and Coast Guard personnel work together at U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, as multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
A woman is comforted by a member of the Ventura County Fire department at U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard, Calif., Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Multiple people are feared dead after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast, according to the Coast Guard. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester, right, addresses the media at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Channel Islands base in Oxnard, Calif. Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. A dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast. Several crew members were rescued and Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll told The Associated Press the Coast Guard was searching for others who may have been able to escape the fire by jumping from the boat. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
CALIFORNIA shaded relief map, highlighted with SACRAMENTO (capital) and fire locators, partial graphic
Coast Guard crews leave the US Coast Guard Station Channel Islands as they head out to the scene of the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning at the Coast Guard base in Oxnard, California on September 2, 2019. - A commercial scuba-dive boat sank amid intense flames early off the coast of Southern California and 34 passengers were unaccounted for, the US Coast Guard said. Five Conception crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters in a televised briefing. She said 34 people -- not the 33 reported earlier by the Coast Guard -- were unaccounted for when the Conception sank 20 yards (meters) offshore, leaving only its bow exposed. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Coast Guard crews leave the US Coast Guard Station Channel Islands as they head out to the scene of the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning at the Coast Guard base in Oxnard, California on September 2, 2019. - A commercial scuba-dive boat sank amid intense flames early off the coast of Southern California and 34 passengers were unaccounted for, the US Coast Guard said. Five Conception crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters in a televised briefing. She said 34 people -- not the 33 reported earlier by the Coast Guard -- were unaccounted for when the Conception sank 20 yards (meters) offshore, leaving only its bow exposed. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A Coast Guard crew leaves the US Coast Guard Station Channel Islands as they head out to the scene of the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning at the Coast Guard base in Oxnard, California on September 2, 2019. - A commercial scuba-dive boat sank amid intense flames early off the coast of Southern California and 34 passengers were unaccounted for, the US Coast Guard said. Five Conception crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters in a televised briefing. She said 34 people -- not the 33 reported earlier by the Coast Guard -- were unaccounted for when the Conception sank 20 yards (meters) offshore, leaving only its bow exposed. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Dignity Health, a healthcare company based in California, released a statement Tuesday that said a nurse and two former staff members were on the vessel but did not release their names.

"Our hearts go out to all the families and loved ones of those on board the Conception," the company said. "Out of immense respect for the family’s privacy, we do not have any other words to share at this time.”

Brett Harmeling said his sister Kristy Finstad was leading a dive trip and that it appears his sister is among those presumed dead.

“She’s extremely strong-willed and very adventurous,” Harmeling told the Los Angeles Times. “If there was a one percent chance of her making it, she would have made it.”

Finstad, 41, studied damselfish and corals in the Tahitian Islands, dove for black pearls in the French Polynesian Tuamotus Islands and counted salmonids for the city of Santa Cruz, where she lived. She also did research for the Australian Institute of Marine Science and wrote a restoration guidebook for the California Coastal Commission.

Finstad was co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures, a company their mother founded in the 1970s.

"My mission is to inspire appreciation for our underwater world," Finstad wrote on her company's website.

She and her husband had just returned from sailing across the South Pacific.

The U.S. Coast Guard has not released identities for any of the 25 victims recovered from the water and said that the number must be confirmed by a coroner.

Five of six crew members, who were on the third deck of the ship when the fire broke out, jumped off and were rescued by a "good Samaritan" recreational vessel, according to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester. She said Tuesday that the crew's quarters are on the top deck, so it was "perfectly normal" for them to be there.

It's unclear if the victims woke up and tried to escape the flames, or perished in their sleep, Rochester said.

The Conception, operated by Truth Aquatics out of Santa Barbara, was in full compliance with regulatory requirements, Rochester said Monday. The Coast Guard inspects vessels like the Conception annually.

The boat was on a three-day $665 diving excursion "to explore the pinnacles of San Miguel Island," according to a Truth Aquatics schedule. It departed Saturday morning and was due back Monday evening.

Truth Aquatics is a Santa Barbara Harbor-based operation that has been in existence since 1974.

Bob Hansen told NBC News that he and his wife were in their boat, "The Grape Escape," in a cove about 400 yards away at the time of the fire and helped the captain and four crew members who managed to escape.

Hansen said one of the crewmen had what appeared to be a broken leg, and another said his girlfriend was on board and did not make it off, Hansen said. They were clearly distraught, with some crying, he said.

“They felt so helpless. They said that with everything — so much on fire so much that they just couldn't get to them,” Hansen said.

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