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Cause of dive boat fire that killed 34 people off California coast still a mystery nearly one month later


The cause of a deadly scuba boat fire that killed 34 people over Labor Day Weekend remained a mystery at the conclusion of a painstaking, two-week examination of the vessel’s charred remains, a law enforcement official said Friday.

The 75-foot boat, called the Conception, burst into flames around 3:15 a.m. before it sank beneath waters off the Southern California coast on Sept. 2. Five crew members escaped with their lives but all the passengers aboard were killed in the blaze.

The boat was raised from the depths on Sept. 12 and brought to Port Hueneme – a naval base near Los Angeles – where investigators from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tried to figure out what ignited the fatal fire.

While their examination of the boat’s remains are complete, authorities will still continue their work in a bid to uncover the cause of the blaze.

An official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press, pieces of the Conception have been shipped off for additional testing while investigators work to comb through hundreds of documents seized from the boat’s operator, Truth Aquatics.

Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles office, said there is not set date for completing the investigation.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard, FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles are leading a criminal probe in the case, and the National Transportation and Safety board is examining safety issues.

The NTSB’s initial report said a crew member asleep in the wheelhouse heard a noise that drew him out of bed the night of the fire. Upon investigating, he saw flames rising from the salon and woke up the rest of the crew. They attempted to get into the salon and the galley but the flames forced them back and ultimately overboard.

Coast Guard standards require at least one “roving” night watch, but officials have said the captain and all crew members were asleep when the fire broke out and then quickly spread throughout the ship.

With News Wire Services