The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday it plans to release a preliminary report in 10 days into the cause of a commercial scuba diving boat fire that presumably killed 34 people in the waters off the coast on Labor Day.
Authorities said they were reviewing safety records, using sonar to scan the wreckage and were interviewing the four surviving crew members of the Conception, a 70-foot charter boat, to try to learn what happened in the hope of preventing a similar tragedy.
Jennifer Homendy, a member of the NTSB, said a big priority was spending time on Wednesday talking with family members of the 34 people presumed dead.
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"The biggest thing I wanted to get across is how sorry we are," she said during an afternoon news conference. "I can't imagine what those families are going through."
Dive crews, meanwhile, were using sonar equipment to map the wreckage of the boat that was sitting inverted on the ocean floor before crews could raise it and bring it ashore, Homendy said.
The boat erupted in flames about 3 a.m. Monday off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, which sits about 30 miles west of the Ventura coastline. The boat sank 20 yards off the island in 64 feet of water. Four crew members escaped and were rescued.
As of Wednesday evening, 33 bodies have been recovered, while one remains missing.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said investigators would be working to compare DNA samples from the bodies with samples from relatives of the victims.
He said investigators would compare the identities with a list of 34 names of people believed to have died on the boat to make sure they actually were aboard when it sank. No identities have been officially released.
Crew members reported hearing explosions, but Brown said that the explosions came after the fire was fully involved, when propane tanks or scuba diving oxygen-enriched nitrox tanks may have exploded. There were no indications that explosions had preceded the fire, he said.
Mixed in among the cards and candles placed on the dock in the harbor where the boat was set to return Tuesday was a framed photo inscribed with a note, "Love you, Allie. You know I'll always miss you forever. Love, Rob."
The Coast Guard said family members looking for information about their loved ones should call 833-688-5551 or 800-400-1572. A Family Assistance Center was set up at Earl Warren Fair Grounds, 3400 Calle Real, Santa Barbara.