Phoenix Couple Among Dead in Diving Boat Fire near Santa Cruz Island
SANTA BARBARA, CA (September 2, 2019) – A Phoenix couple was among 34 people killed following a boat fire off the California coast early Monday morning.
Neal Baltz and his girlfiriend Patricia Beitzinger, both lived in the Ahwatukee Foothills in southern Phoenix, were on vacation when the boat caught fire.
The boat fire occurred during a Labor Day weekend scuba excursion in open water near Santa Cruz Island. Thirty-nine people were aboard the boat, Conception, at the time of the fire.
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.
After years of experimenting at home, fermenting grapes in his bathtub, he enrolled in an enology program at a community college in northern Arizona’s Verde Valley wine region.
On Wednesday, authorities said they recovered the bodies of 33 of the 34 people presumed to have died in the fire. They have identified some of the victims as: Kristy Finstad, Allie Kurtz, Berenice Felipe, Tia Salika, Steve Salika, Diana Adamic, Evan Quitasol, Nicole Quitasol, Angela Quitasol, Fernisa Sison, Michael Quitasol, Charles McIlvain, Marybeth Guiney, Lisa Fiedler, and Mike Kohls.
Five crew members, including the captain, were awake and managed to jump from the ship and seek refuge on a nearby boat called the Grape Escape, which they traveled to via dinghy.
Authorities are continuing to search for the remaining victim and investigate what exactly caused the fire.
National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said that the surviving crew members were interviewed about what happened; however, details about those discussions were not made available.
She also said toxicology tests would be conducted on surviving crew members and those who had died.
Four of the five surviving crew members were tested for alcohol, which returned negative, Homendy added. The fifth crew member could not be evaluated because they were being taken to the hospital at the time, she explained.
All five have been tested for drugs, the results of which are pending, according to Homendy.
We wish to offer our condolences to the bereaved loved ones and friends of Neal Baltz and Patricia Beitzinger.
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