13 members working with area dive agencies
John Palminteri | KEYT
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Underwater Search and Recovery team is immersed in the worst boat disaster scene it has ever experienced. They are on scene where the Conception dive boat burned up Monday in the pre-dawn hours off Santa Cruz Island.
The location is a joint jurisdiction with the National Park Service and Santa Barbara County. SB Sheriff’s Sergeant Garrett Te Slaa says 13 members of his team are working with allied agencies including divers from the FBI, San Luis Obispo County, Orange County and the Port of Los Angeles.
Some of them know the crew personally from recreational trips. “We have numerous guys on our team who have spent hours and hours and days and days on the Conception,” said Te Slaa. Overhead, the a chopper has been assisting with surveillance from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department.
“It is one thing to look at it on a map,’ said Te Slaa. “But because we are 26 miles out to sea it is really important to understand it visually.” Te Slaa says they are all working to find the final victim of the 34 who died in Monday’s tragedy.
The teams above and below water have covered a large grid off Santa Cruz Island based on the scene of the boat fire and the ocean’s currents. While in the water, the divers are conducting various techniques including one where they line up in a row and work an area based on that line on their operations plan.
At this stage of the operations he says teams are not diving overnight due to dangerous conditions. “We are not working at night , diving at night is very dangerous and given the conditions we have had and the luck we have had with the weather it hasn’t been feasible to risk the life of a recovery diver,” said Te Slaa. Some parts of the burned vessel have been brought to shore in a secured area. The National Transportation Safety Board says the remaining part of the Conception, that’s still intact will be salvaged.
Support for the on site dive teams has come in from hundreds of miles away. “Our allied agencies from San Diego to the Oregon state line have raised their hand and asked to come and help us. They have been absolutely crucial to the success of this recovery effort,” said Te Slaa. “Our main priority is to make sure it is done in a thorough and methodical manner so when we do conclude the search efforts we can say with 100 percent certainty that we have done all that we can.”
There have been many offers to help the dive teams with funding and gear. “We saw it in the debris flow we saw it in the Thomas fire,” said Te Slaa. “When an organization like One 805 or Direct Relief come and ask us how they can help it really means a lot.”
Direct Relief is a Santa Barbara based organization that provides urgent medical and other vital supplies to responders and the public during natural and other emergencies worldwide. One 805 is a locally based group that raises money for the needs of first responders that is not in their annual budgets. It is used for gear including items for patrol officers, SWAT teams, air ops, water rescue and K-9 teams, along with numerous other divisions.