The Coast Guard says the investigation into the fire can take a up to a year or longer to complete

By Claudia Harmata
September 12, 2019 11:07 AM
Ringo H W Chiu/AP/Shutterstock

The body of the final victim from the deadly diving boat fire that killed 34 off the coast of California earlier this month has been found.

“The Conception Incident Unified Command is relieved to report that search and recovery efforts today were successful in locating the last missing victim,” the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office tweeted on Wednesday. “DNA testing is still being conducted to confirm identities of 7 of the 34 victims recovered.”

Search and rescue teams had previously recovered 33 bodies in the aftermath of the deadly fire that took place off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, California, on Sept. 2.

Friends of passenger Berenice Felipe told local CBS affiliate KEYT that the 16-year-old’s body was the last to be recovered from the boat’s wreckage.

Felipe was traveling with her best friend, Tia Salika, and Tia’s parents Steve and Diana, all of whom also perished in the blaze.

“Tia’s best friend was Berenice and she was certified to dive last year,” Margo Peyton, owner of Sea Kids Camp, previously told PEOPLE. “Berenice was very sweet, they both were, and they were very intelligent and environmentally savvy.”

In total, 39 people — 33 passengers and six crew members — were aboard the 75-foot Conception for a Labor Day weekend diving excursion when the boat erupted into flames at 3:30 a.m. that Monday morning. All but five crew members — the only ones not sleeping below deck — are believed to have died in the fire.

RELATED: Nationwide Heartbreak: Remembering the 34 Victims of the California Boat Fire

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The survivors, which included the boat’s captain, managed to escape by taking refuge in a nearby boat called the Grape Escape, which they reached on a dinghy after reportedly attempting to rescue the people below deck.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to NBC, but on Friday, Sept. 6, investigators said they were “taken aback” by the size of the ship’s emergency hatch, according to The Los Angeles Times.

“It surprised me how small it was and how difficult it was to access,” Jennifer Homendy, who is overseeing the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation said, adding that she and the investigators also had difficulty finding a light switch.

RELATED: ‘Taken Aback’ by ‘Small’ Escape Hatch, Calif. Boat Fire Investigator Reveals ‘Harrowing’ Details


“I definitely have concerns about the ability of those passengers being able to evacuate during a fire,” she added.

Several law enforcement sources also told the Times that evidence points to several “serious safety deficiencies,” including that there was no “roaming night watchman” onboard, who could have kept a lookout for any danger.

On Sunday, search warrants were served for Truth Aquatics, the company that owned the diving boat, to investigate the offices and ships. NBC reported that agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as other agencies were involved in the search.

RELATED VIDEO: Mayday Audio Raises Questions About Circumstances in Dive Boat Fire — Were Passengers Trapped?

A day after the fire, Glen Fritzler, the owner and operator of Truth Aquatics, said that his team is temporarily ceasing operations after the “complete tragedy” on its boat.

“I’m numb,” said Fritzler — whose company has filed a lawsuit to limit victim payouts and has not yet returned PEOPLE’s requests for comment — in a phone interview with Spectrum News 1 on Sept. 3. “There were a lot of people that were on that boat that I knew personally, people that I had dealt with for decades.”

According to the outlet, the Coast Guard announced on Wednesday that it will also be investigating the deadly fire and that it could take a year or longer to complete.