With 34 Candles, Monterey Bay Community Honors Lost Divers

Sep 6, 2019

Members of the Monterey Bay community joined together in a vigil Thursday night to honor the victims of the devastating boat fire in the Channel Islands. 

Over 100 people gathered at Breakwater Cove in Monterey, a popular spot for divers. They shared stories and memories, beginning to process the loss together. 

Underwater photographer and ocean enthusiast Patrick Webster helped organize the event.

“It's a beautiful day to spend some time with people and I know some other people just got done with their dive or about to go in for a dive. Obviously anytime we go scuba diving, we're gonna be carrying the memory of those that were lost aboard the ship,” Webster said. 

People who attended created a memorial above the beach. It had a scuba tank signed with notes, flowers and cards. 

Webster describes the diving community as a tight-knit community. 

“It takes a lot to want to go diving in cold water. California divers are a different breed of diver,” he said. 

At least six of the presumed victims of the accident were from the Santa Cruz area. 

Marine Biologist Kristy Finstad was leading the dive trip. She co-owned Worldwide Diving Adventures in Santa Cruz, which chartered the dive boat, Conception, for the Labor Day weekend trip.

In a Facebook post Friday, her brother Brett Harmeling wrote, “Your vibrant, compassionate, powerful, loving, resilient, light will never be forgotten. Your legacy is engrained [sic] within me and will be shared through my adventure of life. We Miss You Kristy!”

Also onboard was Steve Salika. He worked at Apple for 30 years. He met his wife Diana Amica at the company. The couple went on the trip with their daughter Tia, 17, and Tia’s friend, Berenice Felipe. The young women attended Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz. 

Diana was a contract Humane Educator at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter. Tia and Berenice also volunteered there. In a Facebook post, the shelter shared words from former SCCAS Humane Educator Jen Walker. Walker wrote, “Diana was an ally to all living things – orphan kittens, wild birds, youth volunteers – and a champion for the natural world around us.” 

The post continued, “Her daughter Tia was an amazing young woman, filled with shy grace and the purest enthusiasm. Her dear friend Bernice was a model of gentle support for the animals and children she worked with at the Shelter.” 

The Soquel Creek Water District announced that their beloved member of their work family, Vaidehi Campbell, will be greatly missed.

Online, the district wrote, “Vai was a very special person, a valued member of our Soquel Creek Water District family, and a beautiful, kind soul.” 

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board described the harrowing story of the fire, revealed through interviews with the survivors. NTSB Board member Jennifer Homendy said one crew member reported he awoke to a noise and saw flames erupting from the galley area. “The crew reported that they went to the double doors of the galley and tried to get in to get to the passengers, but that it was engulfed in flames at that time,” Homendy said.

Due to heat, flames and smoke, the crew had to jump from the boat and make their way to a nearby vessel. Some then returned back to the Conception but were unable to rescue anyone else.   

Avid diver Michelle Manson, who attended the vigil, knows the crew. 

“I've been raw for like four days because it's hitting home for me. I'm on that boat, that specific boat, multiple times a year. I know the crew. I've known them for years I've known the company for years and they're amazing and I can't imagine what they're going through,” Manson said. 

Manson says the gathering will help the diving community begin to heal.

“It’s just nice to have everybody together and to see each other and say, ‘wow, we’re here.’ We’re here to take care of each other,” Manson said. 

As the sky grew dark, the memorial service honored the victims with a moment of silence. Then, people lit 34 candles, nestled them into abalone shells and rested the shells on the edge of the beach.