Conception trial begins

Please register or login

Welcome to ScubaBoard, the world's largest scuba diving community. Registration is not required to read the forums, but we encourage you to join. Joining has its benefits and enables you to participate in the discussions.

Benefits of registering include

  • Ability to post and comment on topics and discussions.
  • A Free photo gallery to share your dive photos with the world.
  • You can make this box go away

Joining is quick and easy. Log in or Register now!

rmorgan

ScubaBoard Supporter
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
750
Reaction score
760
Location
Ohio, USA
# of dives
500 - 999

Deckhand testifies fighting deadly fire on California dive boat impossible​

The first deckhand of the Conception told jurors how the captain jumped overboard as the other crew members were trying to find a way to reach the passengers trapped below.
EDVARD PETTERSSON / October 27, 2023
w=1500
Plan of the main deck of the Conception, the dive boat on which 34 people died in Sept. 2019 (Source: National Transportation Safety Board)
LOS ANGELES (CN) — A crew member who survived the fire that killed 34 people on a dive boat off the coast of California testified Friday that it was impossible for them to fight the flames that destroyed the vessel.
Milton French, the first deckhand on the fatal Labor Day diving trip in 2019, told a federal jury in downtown Los Angeles that when he was woken up by other crew members in the middle of the night, the flames from the boat's main deck were already 15 feet high and coming over the railing of the upper the deck where most of the crew were sleeping.
French was called by the prosecution at the seaman's manslaughter trial of Jerry Boylan, the captain of the Conception that was on a three-day diving trip with 33 passengers and six crew members on board. All the passengers and one crew member who was sleeping below with the passengers perished.
French was in a romantic relationship with Allie Kurz, the second deckhand who was on her second overnight trip on the boat and who was assigned to sleep with the passengers below. French said until a few weeks before the fatal trip, he had been the crew members who slept below deck to assist the passengers in case they needed anything during the night.
"I don't remember hearing any firefighting instructions," French said as he recounted in sometimes halting testimony the crew's ineffective attempts to reach the people trapped below. "It didn't happen — we didn't fight the fire."
Boylan, 70, is charged with misconduct or neglect by of a ship officer. Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in LA accuse him of not having a required night watch on the boat and being the first to abandon ship — and telling the rest of the crew to do the same — instead of trying to stop the fire and save the people trapped below deck.
"Jerry Boylan was the captain, the person in charge of the safety of the passengers and the crew," Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew O'Brien told the jurors in his opening statement earlier this week. But "he was the first person to jump off the vessel."
French, who was 28 at the time of the tragedy, recounted before the jury how, after he was awakened and had seen that the stairs from the upper deck down to main deck were already blocked by the flames, he and the other crew members climbed down over the railings to get down and find a way the rescue the passengers while Boylan stayed in the wheelhouse to radio the Coast Guard for help.
He climbed down to the bow of the boat, French said, but the walkway to the back of the boat where the fire stations were located was already blocked by the flames shooting out of the windows of the salon. French and the boat's second captain then tried to open the central window of galley to access the salon, where the stairs to the below-deck bunk room was located as well as the escape hatch from below.
Remembering that there was a fire ax in the wheelhouse with which they could break the galley's windows, French tried to get attention of Boylan who he could see in the wheelhouse as it was filling up with smoke. However, before he was able to get Boylan's attention, the captain had jumped from the wheelhouse over the crew members scrambling around on the boat's bow and into the ocean.
"It really looked like he was on fire," French said. "We assumed he needed some help."
The second captain dove in the water to assist Boylan, French said. But the captain was unharmed and when he came up he told the three crew members, one of whom had broken his leg jumping from the upper deck, to get off the boat, according to the deckhand.
French next went into the water and swam to the stern of the Conception to see if he could enter the salon from there. However, when he climbed on board, he saw that the entrance to the salon as well as the two fire stations with hoses that could spray seawater on the fire were completely engulfed.
Eventually, the five surviving crew members used the Conception's skiff to reach a nearby anchored sport-fishing boat to radio the Coast Guard. French and the second captain then went back to the burning Conception in the skiff to look for any survivors in the water in the hope that some of the passengers might have gotten off the boat before the flames and smoke had blocked their way out of the bunk room.
Boylan is accused of failing to train and drill the crew in the use of the Conception's fire fighting equipment, as well as failing to direct them to fight fire during the fatal night, such as using the fire extinguishers or the fire axe, or trying to rescue the passengers..
"I remember seeing Jerry on the back deck," after he had jumped into the ocean, French said. "I don't remember Jerry doing anything."
Citing a confidential report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the LA Times reported in September that the fire started in a large plastic trash can on the boat's main deck, underneath the stairs to the upper deck and just outside the doors to the salon.
 
the captain jumped overboard as the other crew members were trying to find a way to reach the passengers trapped below


WOW! And people were defending the captain and the company that owned Conception.

May Allah give patience and solace to the families of the victims. Most terrible tragedy.




the fire started in a large plastic trash can on the boat's main deck

Were there any explanations of why the fire started in the plastic trash can?
 
Were there any explanations of why the fire started in the plastic trash can?

The ATF report said what started it was unknown, just that the one under the stairs was the origin.
 
The ATF report said what started it was unknown, just that the one under the stairs was the origin.

So it wasn't "batteries" or "chargers" thing. I vaguely remember that there was speculations that it was due to batteries left charging.
 
WOW! And people were defending the captain and the company that owned Conception.

May Allah give patience and solace to the families of the victims. Most terrible tragedy.
I know, Bolty. It’s just the first day of a trial, but there aren’t many witnesses… 🙏🏼
 
So it wasn't "batteries" or "chargers" thing. I vaguely remember that there was speculations that it was due to batteries left charging.

Probably not. The NTSB report speculated that it might have been from batteries and chargers, but that wasn't backed up with the recreations that the ATF did.
 
I can envision a fire that was so intense and so advanced that it would be impossible to fight on a boat. I think it is surprising that the crew did not receive instructions in fire fighting, but that might not have made a difference.

If the captain saw flames shooting up from the deck below and the wheelhouse filled with smoke there may have been nothing else he could do (in his underwear) most likely. I can not condemn the capt or crew for abandoning the vessel, without personal knowledge of the intensity of the fire.

What seems so terribly disappointing is the apparent failure to designate a night watch; which may have saved many lives.

My condolences to anyone who lost friends or loved ones in this tragedy.
 
I think it is surprising that the crew did not receive instructions in fire fighting, but that might not have made a difference.

What seems so terribly disappointing is the apparent failure to designate a night watch; which may have saved many lives.

Which I think are the two biggest issues for the captain, ensuring that watches are manned and training was conducted are part of the captain's job. I think that his conduct on the night of the fire is a distraction.
 
Prosecutor apparently portraying the Captain and crew as cowards for jumping off the wheelhouse deck into the water, is off the mark. Had they not done so, they would have burned to death up there, it appears the fire was by then un-fightable from the vessel, despite some of the crew climbing back onboard at the stern to try.

It was the lack of a night watchstander on the main deck and making rounds, that doomed the passengers. The owners should have provided a crewmember for that watch, and the Captain should have insisted on it.

I’ve been a Mate/assistant Captain several times on dive boats in the Gulf, and had to stay awake and make rounds. Not easy, especially in the wee hours of the morning, but you have to. Or else something like this can happen.
 
Boylan is accused of failing to train and drill the crew in the use of the Conception's fire fighting equipment, as well as failing to direct them to fight fire during the fatal night, such as using the fire extinguishers or the fire axe, or trying to rescue the passengers..
A couple of others touched on this, but it's such an important point I'll ask directly now; given the circumstances described, even if Boylan had trained and drilled the crew so, and even if he had directed them to fight fire/attempt rescue during the event, is there any credible reason to think this would likely have saved any lives?

Also, had he remained on the boat and directed the crew to fight the fire and/or try to rescue passengers, would this have put pressure on them to stay longer and endanger themselves more? (All this would've been far different to think about in the middle of the disaster).

What I'm getting at is the idea that even if Boylan was negligent in not training and drilling the crew in fire fighting (and I don't know what legal obligations if any he had in that), I believe the prosecution would also need to show that specific negligence contributed to the fatalities. If it's negligence that was non-contributory to the outcome, it might be useful for making Boylan look bad.

I get that this still leaves the issue of the required roving night watch. I just want to put aside emotion, passion and the natural tendency to root for the favored side, and focus, accusation by accusation, on whether each point is valid or not.
 
https://www.shearwater.com/products/swift/

Back
Top Bottom