Diver Says ‘Narrow Staircase’ Could Have Made Escape Difficult for Conception’s Passengers

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Dozens are feared dead after a 75-foot dive boat burned off the coast of Southern California early Monday morning.

The Coast Guard said 39 people were on board the Conception during a three-day scuba diving trip to the Channel Islands. The boat caught fire around 3 a.m. when most of the passengers were sleeping.

Speaking with FOX40 on FaceTime, Dr. Aaron Roland of San Francisco said his first reaction was horror when he heard about the Conception boat fire.

“You know, it sounds like it must have happened very, very quickly,” Dr. Roland said. “The thought that occurred to me is, ‘Oh my God, it would be hard to get out of this boat.’”

As a recreational diver himself, Roland relates to the victims.

“You know, I just feel for these people who were on this lovely trip and now they’re gone,” he said.

And he is well-acquainted with Truth Aquatics and the tour company's fleet based in Santa Barbara.

“Well, I’ve been on all of the boats, the Conception, the Vision and the Truth, all of the ones that are owned by this company,” Roland explained.

Dr. Roland told FOX40 he always felt safe on board the Conception. He said he thought of it as a well-designed boat.

“I felt fine. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen,” he said. “It was a very comfortable setup. It was very nice. It’s a beautiful boat.”

In light of the overnight fire that destroyed and sank the boat, killing several passengers who were sleeping in the below-deck bunk, Dr. Roland considered how difficult it would be to evacuate during a fire through what he described as a single staircase to the deck above.

“Everybody through that narrow staircase,” Roland said.

Scanner recordings picked up some key questions from the Coast Guard but the answers from the boat are inaudible.

"Roger. Are they locked inside the boat?" the Coast Guard is heard saying. "Roger. Can you get back on board and unlock the boat, unlock the door so they can get off?"

Dr. Roland said he hopes the disaster leads to new safety regulations for the design of tour boats.

"It's shocking. I've been thinking about my own home where I’m required by code to have two exits from each level of my four-story house,” Roland told FOX40. “I think it ought to be considered whether boats of a certain size, with a certain number of passengers, ought to have multiple escape routes.”

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