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What Happened Once The Conception Boat Fire Started

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After interviewing crew members, representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board detailed the story of what happened on the Conception in a Thursday afternoon press conference. The Conception was a dive boat that caught fire and sank early Monday morning off Santa Cruz Island, claiming 34 lives -- only five crew members survived.

One crew member reported that he awoke to a noise, then left his bunk and saw flames erupting from the ship's galley area, NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy said. The crew member tried to climb down a ladder, but flames engulfed the ladder.

Members of the crew that were on the bridge of the vessel jumped down to the main deck. One of the crew members broke their leg while doing so.

The crew that jumped down reported that they went to the galley's double doors to try to get in and rescue passengers, but it was engulfed in flames. They tried to go to the front part of the ship to get in through the front windows, but were unable to get inside.

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Due to the heat, flames, and smoke, the crew then jumped from the boat. Two crew members swam to the back of the ship and retrieved the ship's skiff, which they took and rescued two others. One crew member got back on the ship -- that is still being investigated, according to NTSB investigator Adam Tucker.

The crew members took the skiff to another nearby ship, got onboard and called 911 in hopes of rescue. They then left and returned to the Conception in the skiff to try to rescue any survivors.

A woman kneels at a makeshift memorial in Santa Barbara Harbor for victims of the Conception boat fire on Sept. 3, 2019. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The owners of the dive boat also filed a lawsuit Thursday, meant to limit their own liability in the sinking of the Conception and the deaths of its passengers, the Associated Press reports.

The NTSB will not hold any more press conferences in the area, but their investigators are expected to remain on the scene for at least another week. The investigation will continue in Washington, with a preliminary report scheduled to be released in a week. The final report is expected to take between 12 and 18 months.

According to Homendy, there may have been gear charging in the galley, including photo and video cameras, as well as cell phones. They aren't ruling out any possible causes of the fire, including the ship's wiring and electrical system.

Homendy characterized members of the crew as very cooperative during interviews. Their interview subjects have also included the vessel's owner/operator. The FBI is handling any potential criminal investigation, and Homendy declined to comment on their work given the NTSB's focus on safety. She did note that the FBI was involved at the scene in helping to preserve evidence.

An FBI Dive Team boat is readied in Santa Barbara Harbor on Sept. 4, 2019 in Santa Barbara. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Investigators are seeking to determine if the ship's fire suppression system was adequate, according to Homendy, including smoke detectors. The smoke detector in the bunk area was not connected up through the galley to the bridge, but according to Tucker, it isn't required to be on a ship like the Conception.

A ship similar to the Conception and operated by the same company contained fire extinguishers in the bunk room, in the galley area, and on the bridge.

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Divers are currently seeking to figure out how to recover the ship. They are looking to raise the vessel intact. The NTSB is monitoring expected high winds, which could make it harder to raise the vessel. The wreckage of the Conception is scheduled to be moved to a secure location once it is raised.

The NTSB is also investigating the ship's safety briefing, including whether it was conducted and how effective it was.

This story has been updated.