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Search Ends For Victims Of California Diving Boat Disaster


The search for survivors of a boat fire off the coast of California is now over. Thirty-four people are presumed dead. Here's Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester talking yesterday.


MONICA ROCHESTER: It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts. We know that this is a very difficult time for families and friends of the victims.

KING: Now comes an investigation into what went wrong on Monday morning. Jennifer Homendy is the top ranking member of the team that's investigating this disaster. She's also a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Ms. Homendy, thanks for joining us.

JENNIFER HOMENDY: Thank you for having me, Noel.

KING: What do we know so far about what caused this fire?

HOMENDY: Well, that's something we still have ways to determine. We just arrived on scene yesterday. We have a team of 16 that are diving into different portions of the investigation - operations, engineering, survival factors and fire analysis. We had a pretty thorough briefing with the Coast Guard yesterday to get a lay of the land. And today, we'll start conducting interviews.

KING: How does your team go about investigating what happened?

HOMENDY: Well, right now - as I said, when we arrived on scene, we had a thorough briefing with the Coast Guard. And then we began to establish parties to the investigation. And we began to form investigative groups. And then we make a list of the different individuals that we would like to interview and the documents and information we need to collect.

KING: OK. As you know, Ms. Homendy, there was a 911 distress call that was made from the boat. And in it, the Coast Guard can be heard asking - and I'm quoting here - "and there's no escape hatch for any of the people on board?" - asking that of the passenger. Is that something that's of concern to you?

HOMENDY: So on this boat, we'll be visiting an exemplar vessel this morning, which is run by the same company as the Conception. But there is an escape hatch on the vessel and a door. So - and we need to take a look at this vessel and then, obviously, get some more information from the owner and operator.

KING: OK. So we don't really know what happened there yet. Five members of the crew left the ship. They escaped in a dinghy. They were rescued. But they did leave their passengers behind on a burning ship. Is that a breach of traditional protocol?

HOMENDY: Well, I think that - you know, I think there are certainly some questions to be asked on what happened leading up to the fire, during the time that it occurred and what happened afterwards. So I think it's too early to really tell that. We need to get a better understanding of what was going on at the time.

KING: Fair enough. What will the National Transportation Safety Board do with the results of the investigation when it's complete?

HOMENDY: So when it's complete - first of all, we'll be on scene for about seven to 10 days. And then we'll issue a preliminary report 10 days from now. And then usually it takes about 12 to 24 months to complete an investigation. Of course, during that time, if we see a safety concern, we'll issue urgent safety recommendations. And at the end, we will issue a final report with various safety recommendations aimed at preventing a similar accident from occurring again.

KING: Jennifer Homendy, thanks so much for your time.

HOMENDY: Thank you, Noel.

KING: Jennifer Homendy is the top ranking member of the team that's investigating that tragic boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUEDO'S "ANT CITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.