Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the dive boat fire that killed 34 people off the Southern California coast.
The Department of Justice on Monday confirmed that it was participating in the joint investigation with the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
The 75-foot commercial dive boat, the Conception, burst into flames off Santa Cruz Island early on Sept. 2, but the flames were so intense, crew members told investigators no one below deck could be saved.
Citing law enforcement sources, the Los Angeles Times reported that investigators were mainly looking at possible safety lapses on the boat, such as the lack of a "roaming night watchman" to keep an eye out for possible emergencies during the night. There are also questions about whether the crew was adequately trained to handle such an emergency.
Only five crew members who had been asleep above the deck were able to escape the flames. A sixth crew member and all 33 passengers were trapped below deck, officials said, with fire blocking the exits.
The boat was only about 20 yards from the coast.
Initial examinations indicate the passengers and crew member died of smoke inhalation before being burned, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters.
All but one body has been recovered as officials also work to salvage what's left of the Conception from the seafloor and attempt to pinpoint the cause of the fire.