Yulia Krashennaya and Daniel Garcia, a couple from Berkeley, were identified Friday by authorities in Southern California as two of the 34 people who died Monday morning in the Conception boat fire.
The fire broke out on the 75-foot commercial diving boat at 3:30 a.m., authorities have said. Within four hours, the vessel had sunk to the ocean floor and came to rest upside down off the north shore of Santa Cruz Island near Platt’s Harbor in Santa Barbara County. The tragedy has been described as the worst maritime disaster in recent California history.
On Friday morning in a press event, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown read aloud the names of nine of the people who died on the Conception. Krashennaya, 40, and Garcia, 46, were among them. The couple lived in the 2800 block of Stanton Street in South Berkeley. The families have asked for privacy in their grieving process, a neighbor and one friend of the couple told Berkeleyside. Berkeleyside has not attempted to contact either family directly.
Krashennaya was a product manager for Cisco Global Event Marketing and worked in technology, data and analytics at SpiraLinks, according to her LinkedIn page. Garcia worked for Apple. According to media reports, the company said he was “as passionate about his job at Apple as he was about his love of diving.”
Krashennaya was an active member of Berkeley’s Buy Nothing group on Facebook and had been part of that group since it began last year in August.
“Yulia offered tools, plums, all kinds of other thoughtful gifts, and was a prompt, considerate communicator who was happy to help her fellow neighbors,” a group administrator told Berkeleyside on Friday. “She was certainly a great member, very thoughtful, very welcoming, very active, very kind in her interactions, and she will certainly be missed.”
Brian Pinkham, a friend of Garcia’s, said there were “just so many facets to Dan.” His friend touched many lives “whether as an online community leader, LED wizard, event organizer, deeply caring friend, brilliant co-worker, and the list goes on.”
Sheriff Brown said, in Friday morning’s press conference — which Berkeleyside viewed remotely — that authorities have connected with the families of all 34 victims from the boat fire and are working to collect DNA samples from them to assist in the identification process.
The sheriff’s office has confirmed the identities of 18 people on the Conception using a process called Rapid DNA testing, Brown said. It’s the same technology authorities used during last year’s deadly Camp Fire in Paradise, California, he said. The sheriff’s office has one Rapid DNA instrument from a company named ANDE, which is based in Colorado. ANDE brought a second Rapid DNA machine to the scene this week to aid in the identification process, the sheriff said.
The sheriff’s office released only nine of the 18 names Friday because officials are still working to make face-to-face notifications to the remaining families, who are located nationally and internationally, Brown said. As of Thursday, he said, 20 DNA samples had been received from those families and more were on the way.
In addition to the Berkeley couple, the sheriff identified the victims as Caroline McLaughlin, 35, of Oakland; Raymond “Scott” Chan, 59, of Los Altos; Alexandra Kurtz, 26, of Santa Barbara; Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, of Anaheim; Marybeth Guiney, 51, of Santa Monica; and Ted Strom, 62, of Germantown, Tennessee; and Wei Tan, 26, of Goleta.
Tan, who was originally from Singapore, had recently graduated from UC Berkeley, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and her Facebook page.
Authorities have recovered the bodies of 33 of the victims who died on the Conception. Salvage operations are underway and officials said Friday morning that they hope to locate the final victim as part of that effort. Moving the boat will allow them to access areas that have not been previously available to divers, the sheriff said.
“They were from our local area and from throughout California. From across the United States and from around the world,” Brown said. “Their tragic loss has devastated countless family members, loved ones, friends and colleagues. We mourn their loss and we want to assure those who they leave behind that we will continue working tenaciously to recover all of the victims, to determine how they died and to investigate the cause of this terrible fire and loss of life with the hope that future such tragedies can be prevented.”
Brown said the coroner’s office does not plan to conduct autopsies on any of the victims and that the cause of death in all cases has been identified, preliminarily, as smoke inhalation. In response to a reporter’s question, he said it appeared likely that all of the victims died before the fire reached them. All the burns appear to have happened after death, he said.
Brown said his pathologist had determined that complete autopsies would not provide any additional pertinent evidence, and would only delay the process of releasing remains to family members.
“This is something that we are cognizant of and trying to balance,” he said.
Capt. Monica Rochester, Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach commander for the U.S. Coast Guard, said the salvage operation that began Friday would be a slow process with no set timeline. The team is working to “gently roll” the vessel, which is upside down.
“It’s an incremental effort to make sure we try our deliberative best to keep the vessel intact,” she said. “It is a very exacting, tolling process on the folks that are on scene, the divers that have to assist in the continued assessment and rigging.”
Rochester said weather forecasts over the next few days, which include winds up to 35 knots, might well slow the salvage effort. If the vessel has not been placed on a barge before the winds pick up, she said, crews would work to make sure the Conception is anchored, then wait for the wind to die down before starting again.
Santa Barbara city and county fire agencies have been on the scene this week as part of the emergency response. Friday, they were making way for the national response team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Carlos Canino, of the ATF’s Los Angeles office, said he could not comment Friday morning about the cause or origin of the Conception fire because anything he said would be speculative. He said the ATF team that’s on its way — and will begin work Friday night — includes senior ATF special agents as well as certified fire investigators, electrical engineers, forensic chemists and other professionals. The agents alone, he said, have over 250 years of experience among them in investigating fires.
“The team that’s coming here to assist and try to get to the bottom of this tragedy is exceptional,” Canino said. “It’s too early to tell what the cause of the fire is. And, again, it’s imperative that I don’t speculate, or anybody else speculate, until we get a look at the boat.”
He said he hoped the team would get to see the vessel “sometime in the next few days.”
Divers and support crews from many agencies continue work at the #Conception dive boat incident off Santa Cruz Island. The vessel caught fire and sank on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Photos by @sbsheriff and @CHISNPS. pic.twitter.com/eUJuJELPW1— Santa Barbara County (@countyofsb) September 4, 2019
Friday’s press conference followed a National Transportation Safety Board press event Thursday where authorities shared what they had gleaned about the fire in the investigation to date. Crew members told the NTSB they had tried to reach passengers trapped on the boat, but that the galley doors were already “engulfed in flames.” They could not free them through the windows, either.
None of the crew members recalled hearing smoke alarms going off during the fire, according to Santa Barbara news site Noozhawk.
Rochester, the Coast Guard captain, said Friday morning that there were two smoke detectors on the Conception, on the port and starboard sides. She said she did not know whether they were working at the time of the fire.
A community vigil is planned in Santa Barbara County on Friday evening.
Update, 5:13 p.m. The sheriff’s office has released the names of 13 other victims from the Conception boat fire: Kendra Chan, 26, Oxnard; Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, and Michael Quitasol, 62, of Stockton; Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, Imperial Beach; Carol Diana Adamic, 60, Steven Salika, 55, and Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, of Santa Cruz; Andrew Fritz, 40, of Sacramento; Charles McIlvain, 44, and Santa Monica; Vaidehi Campbell, 41, Felton; and Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, of Phoenix, Arizona; and Patricia Ann Beitzinger, 48, of Chandler, Arizona.
The Coast Guard suspended salvage operations just after 3:30 p.m. Friday due to weather and safety concerns.
Salvage operations have been suspended for weather/safety concerns. The unified command will continue to monitor weather conditions and resume operations when it is safe to do so. Authorities will remain on scene to enforce the safety zone around the site. pic.twitter.com/kjyRdVOdhj— USCG Southern California (@USCGSoCal) September 6, 2019
The Santa Barbara sheriff’s office is posting updates on its website. This story was updated after publication with some additional detail about Wei Tan.