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Santa Barbara Remembers Victims Of Diving Boat Disaster


All right. Officials haven't released the names of people who died in a fire on a dive boat off Southern California earlier this week, but some of the victims have already been identified by their family members. NPR's Vanessa Romo has this story from Santa Barbara.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: The day after a fire engulfed a scuba diving boat off the coast of Southern California, killing 34 people, a memorial at Santa Barbara Harbor, where the boat was based, has grown. Mourners coming to pay their respects brought sunflowers, roses, plumerias and other items to place alongside dozens of candles that have shown up overnight. On Tuesday afternoon, they were too much for Sherry McDonough, the mother of Alexandra Kurtz, one of the victims onboard Conception.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How are you coping with all of this? What's...

SHERRY MCDONOUGH: I'm not. We came out from Cincinnati. It comes in waves. Never thought I would ever have to go through this.

ROMO: McDonough arrived from Cincinnati following the disaster. She wrung her hands and pursed her lips, holding back tears as she answered reporters' questions. But she offered a small glimpse of the person her daughter, at 25, had become. Her nickname was Allie. She worked at Paramount Pictures for a couple of years, and she loved the ocean.

MCDONOUGH: She just wanted to follow her dream of the ocean and the sea and diving. And that's what she wanted to do. That's where she was happy at.

ROMO: Authorities haven't released any names of the victims. Most have yet to be pulled out of the ocean. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said they range in age from teens to people in their 60s. Most came for the three-day diving trip from Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area. For some of the people visiting the memorial, their compassion extends to the living, the ones who survived. Sebastian Orth is a local artist who comes down to the harbor nearly every day. He's known a handful of people who've worked at Truth Aquatics, the company that ran the dive tour.

SEBASTIAN ORTH: I feel really bad for the crew members who had to jump off and couldn't do anything. Like, that's got to be terrible for them because I'm sure they didn't want to jump off the boat and do that.

ROMO: The same kind of thoughts were on Leslie Boyle's mind, who added a bouquet of bright yellow daisies.

LESLIE BOYLE: You know, the - just the survivor guilt and remorse of not being able to save those people. So those survivors are going to be dealing with this as well for the rest of their life.

ROMO: On the opposite side of the dock is another smaller memorial. This one is permanent. A brass dolphin leaps out of a large rock near a breakwater. A plaque says, in memory of our loved ones whose lives and destinies have been claimed by the sea. Laurie Moon and her partner are quietly watching the waves.

LAURIE MOON: Just feeling like we wanted to kind of think about it and remember.

ROMO: The ache, she says.

MOON: It's hard to really even put into words how devastating it is. And you just want to, you know, put your feelings out there for them.

ROMO: Investigators have yet to determine why the fire started. But an NTSB official said she's certain the cause will be found, with the goal to prevent such an accident ever occurring again.

Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Santa Barbara.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS' "MOMENTARY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.