Search Ends For Victims Of California Diving Boat Disaster
NOEL KING, HOST:
The search for survivors of a boat fire off the coast of California is now over. Thirty-four people are presumed dead. Here's Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester talking yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MONICA ROCHESTER: It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts. We know that this is a very difficult time for families and friends of the victims.
KING: Now comes an investigation into what went wrong on Monday morning. Jennifer Homendy is the top ranking member of the team that's investigating this disaster. She's also a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Ms. Homendy, thanks for joining us.
JENNIFER HOMENDY: Thank you for having me, Noel.
KING: What do we know so far about what caused this fire?
HOMENDY: Well, that's something we still have ways to determine. We just arrived on scene yesterday. We have a team of 16 that are diving into different portions of the investigation - operations, engineering, survival factors and fire analysis. We had a pretty thorough briefing with the Coast Guard yesterday to get a lay of the land. And today, we'll start conducting interviews.
KING: How does your team go about investigating what happened?
HOMENDY: Well, right now - as I said, when we arrived on scene, we had a thorough briefing with the Coast Guard. And then we began to establish parties to the investigation. And we began to form investigative groups. And then we make a list of the different individuals that we would like to interview and the documents and information we need to collect.
KING: OK. As you know, Ms. Homendy, there was a 911 distress call that was made from the boat. And in it, the Coast Guard can be heard asking - and I'm quoting here - "and there's no escape hatch for any of the people on board?" - asking that of the passenger. Is that something that's of concern to you?
HOMENDY: So on this boat, we'll be visiting an exemplar vessel this morning, which is run by the same company as the Conception. But there is an escape hatch on the vessel and a door. So - and we need to take a look at this vessel and then, obviously, get some more information from the owner and operator.
KING: OK. So we don't really know what happened there yet. Five members of the crew left the ship. They escaped in a dinghy. They were rescued. But they did leave their passengers behind on a burning ship. Is that a breach of traditional protocol?
HOMENDY: Well, I think that - you know, I think there are certainly some questions to be asked on what happened leading up to the fire, during the time that it occurred and what happened afterwards. So I think it's too early to really tell that. We need to get a better understanding of what was going on at the time.
KING: Fair enough. What will the National Transportation Safety Board do with the results of the investigation when it's complete?
HOMENDY: So when it's complete - first of all, we'll be on scene for about seven to 10 days. And then we'll issue a preliminary report 10 days from now. And then usually it takes about 12 to 24 months to complete an investigation. Of course, during that time, if we see a safety concern, we'll issue urgent safety recommendations. And at the end, we will issue a final report with various safety recommendations aimed at preventing a similar accident from occurring again.
KING: Jennifer Homendy, thanks so much for your time.
HOMENDY: Thank you, Noel.
KING: Jennifer Homendy is the top ranking member of the team that's investigating that tragic boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara.
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