LOS ANGELES, Sept 5 (Reuters) - A senior environmental scientist and her husband were on the dive boat that caught fire and sank off the coast, California’s governor said on Thursday, and are presumed to be among the 34 people killed in one of the state’s worst maritime disasters.
Governor Gavin Newsom said Adrian Dahood-Fritz was a marine conservation scientist for the state’s Ocean Protection Council and had been on board the 75-foot Conception for the dive trip along with her husband, Andrew Fritz.
“Adrian led the state’s efforts to manage California’s network of marine protected areas, and she cared deeply about the ocean and biodiversity,” Newsom said.
Crews are searching for the remains of the final victim yet to be found following the disaster off Santa Cruz Island early on Monday morning. Authorities have been using a DNA analysis here tool typically employed in war zones to identify the 33 badly burned bodies recovered so far.
“California is committed to assisting in recovery efforts and the investigation however possible. Based on the findings of the investigation, the state will take action to prevent horrific boat fires like this in the future,” Newsom said in a statement.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators have already interviewed the Conception’s captain and four surviving members of the crew and begun mapping the wreckage of the boat lying upside down on the ocean floor, some 65 feet (20 meters) below the surface.
Five survivors were on deck when the flames erupted shortly after 3 a.m. Pacific time and were able to escape in an inflatable life boat.
The 34 victims, including passengers and one crew member, were sleeping below deck. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said the two exits, a stairway to the galley and an escape hatch, may have both been blocked by fire.
The boat’s owner, Truth Aquatics, has suspended its dive expeditions while the incident is investigated, which is initially expected to take up to two years to complete.
The NTSB has said that the Conception will ultimately be raised from the ocean floor.
Also among the victims were a family of five, a teacher and his daughter, and a diving instructor and marine biologist. None of the names of the dead, who range in age from 17 to 60, have been publicly released by authorities. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)