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"Now They're Just Gone": A Family Of 5, High Schoolers, And A Father And His Daughter Are Among California Boat Fire Victims

"The only sense of comfort right now is knowing she passed doing what she loved," a father said of his daughter. "You became the pirate you wanted to be, now sail away."

Last updated on September 4, 2019, at 6:24 p.m. ET

Posted on September 3, 2019, at 9:20 p.m. ET

Evita Olson, Facebook, Facebook/GoFundMe

Evita Olson still can't comprehend that just two weeks ago her sisters helped button her wedding dress and stood beside her when she took her vows, and "now they're just gone."

Evan Michael Quitasol, Nicole Quitasol, and Angela Quitasol were on a Labor Day diving trip with their father and stepmother when their boat erupted in flames off the Southern California coast, killing nearly everyone on board.

"The biggest thing for me is that on August 17 my sisters were in my wedding," Olson told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. "Angela was my maid of honor. She sang me a song for her maid of honor speech. Everything was so normal then...and now they're just gone."

Their mother, Susana Rosas, posted on Facebook Tuesday that her three daughters, their father, and his wife were likely killed in the maritime tragedy in which 34 people died.

"It is with a broken heart ... 3 of our daughters were on this boat. As of now they are still missing," she wrote on the same day Coast Guard officials called off search efforts.

The five family members were celebrating Michael Quitasol's birthday on Wednesday, his daughters' stepfather, Chris Rosas, told the Los Angeles Times. The sisters, he said, were "the most kind, most loving people I’ve ever met — and I’m not just saying that because they’re family."

Facebook

Michael Quitasol and his daughters.

Angela Quitasol, 28, had moved to Stockton several years ago and taught seventh-grade science at Sierra Middle School in the same area where she grew up.

"For Angela, students were her focus," Patty Kelley, the superintendent's executive assistant, said in a statement. "She shared her passion for science with them and greeted them every day with a high five and a bright smile."

Susana Rosas's eldest child, Evan Michael Quitasol, was a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton, hospital officials confirmed. Her 31-year-old daughter, Nicole Quitasol, lived in Coronado, where she worked at the Nicky Rottens sports bar. She loved the water and scuba diving, according to her Facebook page.

"Nicole was such a smart, loving, energetic and adventurous soul. She will be greatly missed," Nicky Rottens CFO Bryn Butolph said, adding that the bar had set up a GoFundMe to help her mother with funeral costs for all five family members.

Michael Quitasol and his wife, Fernisa Sison, worked at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in the Central Valley, the health care company confirmed.

The couple lived their lives "for their kids," Sison's daughter, Nisa Shinagawa, told KTXL, and often worked up to four jobs at a time to make ends meet. Once their children grew up, finished school, and could take care of themselves, they began to "put more time into the things they wanted to do, like diving," Shinagawa said.

"It was a dream of Michael's to get back into scuba diving," she said. "When him and my mom got together, they wanted to start doing more things in their lives for themselves ... they had lived their lives for us."

Michael Quitasol loved to scuba dive, and the Labor Day adventure was his "annual trip," his children said.

"He's been on that boat multiple times, so many times annually ... with that company and that boat," Dominic Selga told the Fox affiliate. "We have memories on that boat. We've been on that boat."

The Conception was well-known and beloved among the close-knit Southern California diving community. Many of the victims lived near Santa Cruz, San Jose, and the Bay Area, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters.

Many people on Facebook shared their memories and photos of family trips, reunions, and summer excursions to the Channel Islands, a diving destination known for its giant kelp forests and crystal-clear waters.

Facebook

Kristy Finstad.

Kristy Finstad, a respected diving instructor and co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures, was helping lead the Labor Day weekend trip, her family said. The 41-year-old marine biologist learned how to scuba dive from her parents and studied aquatic biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She also worked at the city's water department, according to her Facebook.

Finstad took over her family's Santa Cruz–based diving company in 2004, according to the website, and chronicled her adventures swimming beside newborn humpback whales, spotting rare dolphins, and weathering seasickness on long boat trips to the Tuamotu Islands.

“She’s extremely strong-willed and very adventurous,” her brother, Brett Harmeling, told the LA Times. “If there was a 1% chance of her making it, she would have made it.”

On Tuesday, he wrote on Facebook that he still had no "final word" on his sister, but said it "is likely she has transitioned to be with the good Lord."

Fremont Unified School District said on Facebook that Scott Chan, a physics teacher at American High School, and his daughter, Kendra, died in the incident.

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

Such heartbreak. A father & daughter from #LosAltos among those on board the Conception. 59 y/o Scott Chan was a teacher at American High School in #Fremont. He was with his 26 y/o daughter Kendra. Chan’s wife shared these pictures & said the two bonded over diving #ktvu 10/11p

The father and daughter loved the outdoors, especially the ocean, and bonded over diving. They posted photos of trips to national parks and the beach. Vicki Moore told KTVU that she was supposed to pick up her husband and firstborn in Santa Barbara after their diving trip. Instead, she was there to give authorities a cheek swab to help identify her partner of 35 years and their 26-year-old daughter.

"You don't expect to have a child that dies before you," Moore told the news station. "I can barely talk about my husband, but frankly, it's even harder when it's your own child."

In one of his last Facebook posts, Chan proudly shared a US Fish and Wildlife Service video that featured his daughter, a marine biologist, talking about her passion for science.

"I grew up scuba diving here in the Channel Islands; I would go with my dad every year and I love it,” Kendra Chan said in the video.

Chan's son, Kevin, posted a tribute to his big sister on Facebook, writing, "I'll miss you and your love for all things outdoors and underwater. Rest easy."

Pacific Collegiate, a charter school in Santa Cruz, told the Mercury News that two students and the parents of a high schooler were on board the stricken boat.

"While this was not a school sponsored trip, our hearts and thoughts are with the families of the victims and those yet missing, particularly those of our students and parents on board," Pacific Collegiate said in a statement.

Apple confirmed in a statement that one of its veteran senior managers, Steve Salika, was killed on the boat with his wife, Diana Adamic, and their daughter Tia. The couple met while working at the company and were on the trip to celebrate their daughter's 17th birthday, according to family friends who run Kids Sea Camp, a diving organization in South Carolina.

Tia had also brought along her friend, Bernice. The family had "a great spirit of adventure and love of life."

Apple employee Dan Garcia also died in the fire. He was "as passionate about his job at Apple as he was about his love of diving," the company said in the statement.

"This is a loss for the entire dive industry. We are a small community and a tragedy of this magnitude hits all very hard," said Margo and Thomas Peyton, who run KSC. "They loved the ocean, loved to travel and share their world with their daughter."

Kids Sea Camp

The Salika family in Bonaire in 2018.

Adamic volunteered at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter and was remembered as "kind and insightful, somehow both intense and humble, and above all authentic," former SCCAS Humane Educator, Jen Walker, said in a Facebook tribute.

"Her compassionate, inquisitive nature and personal experiences drove her to seek innovated ways to make the community around her a better place," Walker added. "She was an ally to all living things – orphan kittens, wild birds, youth volunteers – and a champion for the natural world around us."

Tia Salika also helped care for foster kittens and was "filled with shy grace and the purest enthusiasm," Walker wrote.

The shelter called Tia's friend Bernice "a model of gentle support for the animals and children she worked with at the Shelter," adding, "Her calm and easy-going manner was a true gift that she shared with us."

As news spread that officials had called off the search operation on Tuesday, members of the California diving community began replacing their Facebook profile pictures with a red-and-white-striped image of California encircled by a black ribbon to honor the victims and shared snippets about who they were.

On Monday night, Pacific Scuba Divers wrote that their "good friend and long time patron Scott and his daughter were on board among several other divers.”

"As the search goes on to find survivors from this awful tragedy, our heart goes out to families of Scott and other divers who were on the boat," the company said.

Malibu Divers confirmed that two of its members, Charles "Chuck" McIlvain and Marybeth Guiney, both from Santa Monica, were on board, and asked the community to share stories and memories about the two divers.

Guiney was passionate about travel, the ocean, and had been wanting to set up a business to help people explore "places that are more difficult to access," Newsha Tarifard shared. She was an "amazing human being" and "so kind and full of life," Chelsi Gress commented.

McIlvain was a visual effects designer for Walt Disney Engineering, according to his Facebook profile, and married his wife, Jasmine Lord, in 2013. He was incredibly talented, quirky, and his sense of humor was "legendary," his longtime friend Joseph Mancha said.

"What a magical person," Mancha wrote. "Wherever you go or wind up, be like Chuck."

Neal Baltz and Patricia Beitzinger were "generous people" who loved wine, especially Arizona wine, scuba diving, their dogs, and exploring. The couple lived in the Ahwatukee Foothills Village in Phoenix and traveled to California for the weekend trip, Vanessa Ryan, one of their friends, told BuzzFeed News.

Baltz was an engineer and grew up in Illinois. He ran marathons, "but never bragged about them," his friend said. He exuded warmth and joy and was a great photographer, hiker, had lived on boats in the Bahamas, and was a hysterical storyteller who was fascinated by life and "had a great depth of knowledge about a ton of subjects," she added.

"Growing up, he would tell stories about getting in trouble for things like secretly sticking out his middle finger in the family Christmas photo, present day if you took a picture with Neal he would still make some sort of face or gesture that you would not catch until later," Ryan said.

Most of all, he loved his longtime partner, Patricia, whom he called "the one" because of her passion for birds, hiking, and scuba diving.

A few years ago, Baltz founded the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College, where he studied viticulture and enology. When he finished his classes, he created a scholarship so that others would have the opportunity to study and pursue a career in wine, the company said in its tribute.

"That's the kind of person he was," Ryan said of the scholarship. "He was a great friend...his response was always, 'whatever you need.'"

According to his school, Baltz was set to deliver a presentation on Washington wines when he returned from Southern California.

Beitzinger was a nutritionist and a "ray of sunshine," Valerie Wood, who owns Heart Wood Cellars, said on Facebook, sparking other members and friends to comment and share how "good" and "kind" she was. The couple were "very special," their friends said, and made it a priority to visit and dive in as many beautiful places together as they could. They chronicled their adventures in blog posts and YouTube videos, like the time donkeys overran their truck during a 2012 New Year's trip to the Bonaire island, or visiting Zion National Park two years later.

GoFundMe

Allie Kurtz

Allie Kurtz, the only crew member who did not survive the fire, moved to California to "follow her dream," her mother, Cherie McDonough, told NBC News after arriving from Cincinnati to identify her daughter's body.

"She was a go-getter. She was just following her dream. She loved it here, she loved the boat, she loved diving," McDonough said from the flower-lined dock that's now become a memorial and gathering place for those mourning the victims.

Kurtz, 26, graduated from Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts and moved to Los Angeles to find work in the entertainment industry before pursuing a career as a dive instructor, her father, Rob Kurtz, said in a GoFundMe post.

"Allie had a heart of gold, and lived her life on her terms. She left the movie industry to follow her love of boating and scuba diving," her father said. "The only sense of comfort right now is knowing she passed doing what she loved. I will always love you and will miss you forever! You became the pirate you wanted to be, now sail away."


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