3 Passengers Celebrated Birthdays Aboard Doomed California Diving Boat Before Fire: Report
A charter school in Santa Cruz also said that students were onboard
A diving expedition that doubled as a birthday celebration for three passengers, including a 17-year-old girl, ended in tragedy early Monday when the ship went down in flames off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in California.
The Conception boat ignited just after 3 a.m., with 33 passengers and six crew members aboard. Officials said on Tuesday that 20 bodies, 11 female and nine male, have since been recovered, while an additional 14 remain missing.
One of those passengers was a 17-year-old girl traveling with her parents, the Los Angeles Times reports.
She was one of three people to celebrate a birthday during the three-day-long trip, surviving crew members told Shirley and Bob Hansen, according to the Times.
The Hansens were aboard their own boat, the Grape Escape, when the five men escaped the Conception and made their way over on a dinghy. Shirley told the outlet the crew members were distraught, and one said his girlfriend was still on the boat.
The lone crew member who did not manage to escape was remembered by her sister, Olivia, who said the 26-year-old was her “role model.”
“My dad called around and made sure that she was on the boat and she had been checked in to be on that boat and we knew that she was going to be on it,” Olivia, who declined to give her last name, told local CW affiliate KTLA.
“She loved what she was doing,” said Olivia. “She unfortunately left this earth doing something she loved. She was an amazing person and she had the biggest heart. She was my role model, my big sister. She was everything to me and she’s just gone now.”
Pacific Collegiate School, a Santa Cruz charter school for grades 7-12, also confirmed that students were onboard the ship.
“While this was not a school sponsored trip, our hearts and thoughts are with the families of the victims and those yet missing, particularly of those of our students and parents on board,” the school said in a statement.
KSBW reports that two students and one of those student’s parents were on the boat.
Nurse Evan Quitasol, who worked at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, California, was also on board, along with her two sisters, father and stepmother, according to KOVR and KCRA.
Hospital officials confirmed Quitasol’s death in a statement to PEOPLE, writing, “We were extremely saddened to learn the tragic news that one of our nurses was on board the Conception. Two former long-term staff members were also on board. We held a prayer gathering in our Chapel this morning to offer comfort and support to our hospital family. Our hearts go out to all the families and loved ones of those on board the Conception.”
Quitasol’s mother, Susana Solano Rosas, confirmed the losses in an emotional Facebook post, writing Tuesday, “It is with a broken heart … 3 of our daughters were on this boat. As of now they are still missing.”
Kristy Finstad, 41, was also on the boat, leading an expedition for her family’s company, Worldwide Diving Adventures, brother Brett Harmeling told the Los Angeles Times.
“Thank You ALL for your unconditional love and support during this incredibly tragic time… No final word on my sister Kristy; however, it is likely she has transitioned to be with the good Lord,” he wrote on Facebook.
Authorities have yet to identify the victims, though Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown said at a press conference Tuesday that a majority were from Santa Cruz, San Jose and the Bay Area.
Search and rescue efforts have ceased, as diving teams now turn their focus to recovery missions, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester said at the press conference.
Truth Aquatics, which owns the Conception, could not be immediately reached by PEOPLE. Representatives from the company declined to comment to other news outlets.