'Loving' Arizona Couple Who Were 'Adventure Partners' Among Those Presumed Dead in Calif. Boat Fire
"They were a a terrific couple to be around," said Michael Pierce, the viticulture and enology director at Yavapai College
An Arizona couple who were each other’s “adventure partners” in life are two of the 34 people presumed dead after a commercial diving boat fire broke out early Monday morning on a Labor Day weekend excursion.
Neal Baltz and his girlfriend Patricia Beitzinger, who lived in Phoenix, both loved the outdoors and taking trips together, Michael Pierce, the viticulture and enology director at Yavapai College, tells PEOPLE.
Baltz, an engineer, studied winemaking and was supposed to be back at class on Tuesday night to present about wines he had recently discovered in Washington state.
“He had plans to stay with some of his friends after class, and they didn’t hear from him,” says Pierce. “That friend texted me, and we saw the news article. That’s how we found out.”
Pierce says that Baltz showed “a lot of dedication” by making the hour-and-a-half drive to their campus and had “quite the thirst for knowledge.”
“He wanted to follow his passion,” he added. “It’s hard work, and it’s basically farming. We spend a lot of hours together, and it’s outside in the sun.”
“He always made sure that if we had tough days, it was a positive atmosphere. He was always goofing around about something.”
And the person who loved those jokes was Beitzinger, “who was always laughing” at something Baltz was doing.
Although she didn’t take classes with Baltz, who also made wine at home as a hobby, she frequently went him to the campus and was into nutrition and living a healthy life.
“They were a loving couple,” says Pierce. “Patricia was usually smiling. They were a terrific couple to be around.”
After he finished taking Pierce’s classes in the first part of the program, Baltz funded a scholarship for other students, which exists today under this name.
“It was meaningful enough for him that he wanted it to be meaningful for others and pass it forward,” says Pierce.
After the fire broke out on Monday, five crew members who were awake managed to jump ship and seek refuge on a nearby boat called the Grape Escape, which they traveled to via dinghy.
As of Wednesday afternoon, search teams recovered 33 bodies in the aftermath of the fire, which occurred off of Santa Cruz Island, California. One person is still missing, and authorities have yet to identify the victims.
Coast Guard Lt. Zach Farrell said all but one of those left seemingly trapped by flames onboard the 75-foot Conception early Monday have been recovered as of Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported.
Truth Aquatics, which owns the Conception, has not commented.