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San Diego boating community heartbroken after deadly fire

Posted at 6:01 PM, Sep 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-03 13:22:35-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Owners of sportfishing and diving charters in San Diego expressed their grief and condolences Monday after learning of the deadly boat fire near Santa Cruz Island.

John Conniff, the owner of Islander Charters, was at sea guiding a trip when he heard chatter over the radio.

"It was in the middle of the night, and I could actually hear it from where I was sleeping, but we could only hear the Coast Guard side of things, at first I heard that there was a fire on a boat," said Conniff.

"We couldn't hear the Conception side of the story, but I could hear Coast Guard responding to a serious mayday outside of Santa Barbara."

It wasn't until Conniff returned to San Diego that he learned just how devastating the fire was.

"My heart goes out to them… my first thought when I heard it on the radio was my own family and then of the families of the 25 people sleeping below decks on our boat," said Conniff.

Coniff runs sportfishing and dive trips anywhere from one-and-a-half to five days.

He says the whole industry is grieving.

Patrick Douglas, with Horizon Charters, posted this message on their Facebook page.

"Like many of you in the California dive community we woke up to the devastating news of the Truth Aquatics dive boat fire off Santa Cruz Island last night. Sending our deepest condolences and love out to the families impacted, this is a very sad day for the industry. #prayers"

By phone, Douglas told 10News that dive boats in California operate at a higher level than any other state. He says they maintain the highest standards and an incident like this is an anomaly. In his 30 years of experience, Douglas has never seen an incident so severe.

Both Douglas and Conniff acknowledge incidents like this are a reminder to double down on safety operations.

"I would imagine that everybody is going to take a close look at what they do and how they do it and make sure that 'we're all in good shape."

As crews continue searching for the Conception's missing passengers, flowers and other memorials are being set up at the Santa Barbara Harbor.