33 bodies from California boat fire recovered, 1 missing

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — High school students, a science teacher and his daughter, an adventurous marine biologist and a family of five celebrating a birthday are among the victims of a fire that tore through a scuba diving boat off Southern California's coast, trapping dozens of sleeping people below deck. Authorities said Wednesday that the bodies of 33 of the 34 presumed dead had been recovered.

The new count of confirmed deaths came after officials recovered 13 bodies on Tuesday, said Coast Guard Lt. Zach Farrell, a spokesman for the inter-agency joint information center in Santa Barbara representing local, county, state and federal officials involved in the case.

Five crew members, including the captain, managed to escape after Monday's pre-dawn fire that engulfed the boat named Conception as the victims slept below decks near the island of Santa Cruz during a three-day scuba diving excursion. The vessel eventually sank and overturned, making the recovery of bodies challenging.

Flames moved so quickly through the 75-foot (23-meter) vessel that it blocked a narrow stairway and an escape hatch leading to the upper decks, giving those below virtually no chance of escaping, authorities said.

DNA will be needed to identify the victims. Authorities will use the same rapid analysis tool that identified victims of the deadly wildfire that devastated the Northern California town of Paradise last year, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.

Brown said he had heard anecdotally that those who died ranged from teenagers to people in their 60s.

RELATED: Dozens killed after boat catches fire off California coast

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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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A broken-hearted mother said on her Facebook page Tuesday that her three daughters, their father and his wife were among those presumed dead.

Susana Rosas of Stockton, California, posted that her three daughters — Evan, Nicole and Angela Quitasol — were with their father Michael Quitasol and stepmother Fernisa Sison.

Evan Quitasol was a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center of Stockton, where her father and Sison had worked after attending nursing school at San Joaquin Delta College.

Sison also worked at the college teaching first-year nursing students full-time in 2005 and 2006 and later as an adjunct instructor, according to the school's spokesman, Alex Breitler.

"Everybody's devastated. It's a totally unexpected thing that happened," said Dominic Selga, Sison's ex-husband. "What caused the fire, that's the big question, that's what we all want to know."

Rosas' husband, Chris, told the Los Angeles Times that Nicole Quitasol worked as a bartender in Coronado near San Diego and her sister, Angela, was a science teacher at a middle school in Stockton.

Nicole worked for a Coronado restaurant called Nicky Rottens. A GoFundMe page the restaurant to help the family described Nicole as "an adventurous & loving soul."

The fire broke out shortly after 3 a.m. Monday as the boat sat anchored in Platt's Harbor off Santa Cruz Island, among the rugged, wind-swept isles that form Channel Islands National Park in the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles.

Those on board included students from Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, a public charter school for grades 7 through 12, the school said.

Scott Chan, a physics teacher at American High School in Fremont, also was aboard with his daughter, said Brian Killgore, a spokesman for the Fremont Unified School District. The district said in a statement that Chan taught Advance Placement physics classes for the past three years.

"His students knew him to be an innovative and inspiring teacher who developed a passion for physics among his students," the district said in a statement. "His loss is a tremendous tragedy for our school district."

Chan on his LinkedIn page described his teaching as driven by "passion and wealth of real-world experience from research laboratories, and the electronics, computer, and high-performance automotive industries."

ABC affiliate KNXV-TV in Phoenix reported that an Arizona couple, Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz, were on the trip.

"They went to heaven doing something they loved together," Neal's father, John Baltz, told the television station.

Also below decks was Kristy Finstad, a marine biologist and co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures in Santa Cruz, which chartered the boat. Finstad was leading the scuba tour.

Finstad knew the area well and had done hundreds of dives in the Channel Islands, where she first swam with her father as a toddler. She first dove with a tank off Mexico at age 9, according to her company's website.

Finstad 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.

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

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

Actor Rob Lowe tweeted that he had been aboard the vessel many times. Dave Reid, who runs an underwater camera manufacturing business with his wife, Terry Schuller, also has traveled on the Conception and two other boats in Truth Aquatics' fleet and said he considered all three among the best and safest.

Schuller said the company's crews have always been meticulous in going over safety instructions at the beginning of every trip she's been on.

"They tell you where the life jackets are, how to put them on ... the exits, where the fire extinguishers are, on every single trip," Schuller said.

Coast Guard records show the boat's owners quickly addressed all safety violations over the last five years.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the fire and scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

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Associated Press writers John Antczak and John Rogers in Los Angeles, Julie Watson in San Diego and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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