…Victims of the California boat fire: Who they were …

The fire on the diving boat Conception in the Channel Islands killed 34 people, including several families celebrating birthdays.
The victims came from across the country, united by their love of the ocean and their spirit of exploration.
These are their stories.

Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz.
Neal Baltz, Patricia Beitzinger

Neal Baltz, an engineer from Phoenix, loved wine and loved making it.

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.

He made the hour-and-a-half drive to attend Yavapai College, working in the vineyards and cellars, and sometimes sleeping overnight in his Ford F-150.

At school, he joked that he was “sleeping in a van down by the river,” a reference to a classic Chris Farley sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”

Baltz was a goofy, friendly classmate who got along with everyone, keeping spirits up during the early mornings of hard physical work that comes with running a vineyard,

said Michael Pierce, the director of enology and viticulture at the Southwest Wine Center, who taught six of Baltz’s classes.

Once during a bottling session, he said, Baltz put corks over his eyes and ran through the cellar, pretending to be an alien.

“He’s one of those people who was an absolute pleasure to know,” Pierce said.

“He went through life with joy.”

Baltz worked as an engineer for a semiconductor company and had studied electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin

and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

After Baltz finished his enology program, he endowed a scholarship for the school, a nontraditional campus where the average student age is 48.

He also gave more than $5,000 to help renovate an old racquetball court into a winemaking center.

The school had expected Baltz on campus Tuesday night to make a presentation on wines from Washington, where he had recently traveled, Pierce said.

The instructor already had his presentation in hand, Pierce said.

Baltz and his longtime girlfriend Patricia Beitzinger lived in the Ahwatukee Foothills in southern Phoenix and loved to explore the world together.

Their diving trips had taken them to Micronesia and the Caribbean Netherlands.

On his YouTube page, he had shared dozens of videos of mountain biking, skiing and diving expeditions in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Channel Islands.

“He loved so many things,” Pierce said.

“He loved the ocean, he loved his dogs, he loved Patricia.

We are a small community.

It’s a huge loss for us.”

Scott Chan and Kendra Chan

Scott Chan and his daughter Kendra Chan.
(Fremont Unified School District; Facebook)
Scott Chan, 59; Kendra Chan, 26

Scott Chan shared his love of scuba diving with his daughter, Kendra, who often accompanied him on expeditions in the Channel Islands.

One photo shared by their family showed father and daughter grinning next to a Christmas tree, sporting new diving gear.

“You don’t expect to have a child that dies before you,” said Vicki Moore, Kendra’s mother and Scott’s partner.

Scott graduated from Stanford and worked in Silicon Valley as an electrical engineer for two decades.

Then he started a second career as a high school teacher in the Bay Area, bringing “experience from research laboratories, and the electronics, computer,

and high-performance automotive industries into the classroom,” he wrote in his LinkedIn profile.

At American High School, Scott’s students “knew him to be an innovative and inspiring teacher who developed a passion for physics among his students.

Kendra Chan was a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura.

“I was so proud, so proud of her and all that she was doing,” Moore said.

“She was absolutely an amazing young woman.”

In a video produced by the agency last year for Women’s History Month, Kendra said she grew up diving in the Channel Islands with her father,

and loved skiing, hiking and camping.

She described her love for the marine world, including watching “all the tiny little creatures come alive” on rocks and kelp holdfasts.

“Just get outside,” she said.

“Get involved.

Work on citizen science projects.

Volunteer somewhere.

You don’t have to be a biologist on paper to be a scientist in real life.”


Tia Salika, 17; Steve Salika; Diana Adamic; Berenice Felipe

Tia Salika, a high school student from Santa Cruz, boarded the Conception with her close friend Berenice Felipe and her parents,

Steve Salika and Diana Adamic, to celebrate her 17th birthday.

Steve worked at Apple for 30 years, and met Adamic there, said Deirdre O’Brien, the company’s senior vice president of retail and people.

She said his “energy and enthusiasm touched so many people across our company throughout his career.”

The Salika family loved diving, traveling to Fiji and the Caribbean Netherlands to explore reefs and other marine life.

They encouraged their daughter’s love of the ocean from an early age, taking her on excursions with a company designed to teach children to snorkel and dive.

Adamic volunteered at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, where she was remembered as compassionate, honest and inclusive.

She worked to find resolutions among the most difficult of relationships, said Jen Walker, a former humane educator at the animal shelter, in a statement.

“She was an ally to all living things — orphan kittens, wild birds, youth volunteers — and a champion for the natural world around us,” Walker said.

The two girls attended Pacific Collegiate, a Santa Cruz charter school for students in seventh through 12th grades, according to a letter sent to parents.

Berenice had previously been honored by the school for her work in plant science, according to the school’s Facebook page.

Tia and Bernice both volunteered at the animal shelter, too, helping to care for foster kittens and keeping homeless cats and dogs company.

She said that Berenice’s “calm and easy-going manner was a true gift that she shared with us.”


Lisa Fiedler, 52, of Mill Valley was a hairdresser and avid nature photographer and traveler.
(Facebook )
Lisa Fiedler, 52

Lisa Fiedler worked as a hairdresser in Mill Valley in the Bay Area. In her free time, she pursued her passion for nature photography,

traveling extensively in the West and to Holland, China, Tibet and Guatemala.

“Everybody loved her,” Fiedler’s mother, Nancy Fiedler, said in an interview with KGO-TV.

“She was a kind, gentle person. She loved nature.”

Her photos captured the peace and beauty of nature, including crisp images of hummingbirds in flight, dewdrops clinging to spiderwebs,

and sunsets across stunning mountain ranges.

“Nature is ever changing and always slightly different, begging to be eternally appreciated,” Fiedler wrote on her website.

Last year, Fiedler traveled to Cozumel, Mexico, with Worldwide Diving Adventures, the same company that led the Labor Day weekend excursion on the Conception.

She wrote on Facebook about the joy of finishing her deepest scuba dive ever in an underwater cave formation called Devil’s Throat.

“Petting an octopus on a night dive was another highlight,” she wrote.

“Wish I could stay here forever.”

Kristy Finstad, 41

Kristy Finstad, 41, was helping to lead a Labor Day expedition for her family’s scuba diving operation.
(New York Daily News)
Kristy Finstad, 41

Kristy Finstad first swam the waters of California’s Channel Islands as a toddler, tucked under her father’s arm.

The 41-year-old marine biologist had since returned hundreds of times to the area’s swaying kelp forests and arrays of coral.

On Friday, Finstad boarded the Conception to help lead an expedition for her family’s scuba diving company.

After fire broke early Monday morning, engulfing and sinking the 75-foot vessel, Finstad was among those unaccounted for.

“She’s extremely strong-willed and very adventurous,” said her brother, Brett Harmeling, 31.

“If there was a 1% chance of her making it, she would have made it.”

Finstad had worked as a research diver for the Australian Institute of Marine Science and wrote a restoration guidebook for the California Coastal Commission.

She had dived in the area near Santa Cruz Island often, and the trip was one of the company’s most popular, Harmeling said.

“She has an extraordinary depth of knowledge,” said Harmeling, her brother.

“She has a passion for the Earth, and a love for marine life.”

Finstad and her husband recently had returned from a multiyear sailing trip through the Pacific.

In a blog on the company’s website, she chronicled the beauty and monotony of life on the ocean,

“her colors changing, her energy moody with moon tide currents, thundering waves and glassy reflection.”

“What were we doing with our lives?” Finstad wrote before they embarked.

“Dragging your feet is no way to climb a mountain; holding your breath is no way to dive.”

Adrian Dahood-Fritz

Adrian Dahood-Fritz
(Ocean Protection Council)
Andrew Fritz, 40; Adrian Dahood-Fritz, 40

Andrew Fritz and Adrian Dahood had recently moved from Texas to California.

Dahood turned 40 just two weeks ago.

She celebrated with a marine-themed birthday cake, covered in white chocolate sea stars.

Her colleagues at the California Ocean Protection Council took her out for shaved ice cream at a place with “penguin” in its name

— the bird she was known to love after years working in Antarctica.

Dahood had worked at the Ocean Protection Council in Sacramento, where she helped manage marine protected areas.

In her four months on the job, she had already made an immense impression on staff, her colleagues said.

A colleague described her as a brilliant person without any pretension, whose enthusiasm for the job was unparalleled.

Dahood previously worked for the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As a PhD student at George Mason University, she helped to establish and manage specially protected areas in the Antarctic.

She earned a master’s degree from Texas A&M University and bachelor’s degree in fisheries science and zoology from the University of Washington.

Dan Garcia, 46; Yulia Krashennaya

Apple engineer Dan Garcia was on the Conception with his girlfriend, Yulia Krashennaya, Garcia’s aunt said.

She described him on Facebook as “a gifted engineer” who loved scuba diving and was a loving partner, son, brother and friend.

Garcia was “as passionate about his job at Apple as he was about diving,” O’Brien said in a statement.

Allie Kurtz, 26,

Allie Kurtz, 26, was the only crew member who didn’t survive the fire.
(GoFundMe )
Allie Kurtz, 26

Allie Kurtz was one of six crew members on the Conception for the Labor Day trip.

The five other employees survived by jumping off the boat and paddling in a dinghy to a nearby fishing boat. But Kurtz was below deck when the fire broke out and is presumed dead, along with the boat’s 34 passengers.

“She had the biggest heart,” her sister Olivia told reporters this week as her family waited for news on shore. “She was my role model, my big sister. She was everything to me.”

Kurtz graduated from a performing arts high school in Cincinnati, district officials said.

Before pursuing her love of diving full time, Kurtz worked at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles on the creative advertising team,

working on films including “Mission: Impossible,” a company representative said.

“Allie had a heart of gold, and lived her life on her terms,” said her father, Rob Kurtz, in an online post.

“The only sense of comfort right now is knowing she passed doing what she loved.”

He added in tribute to his daughter: “I will always love you and will miss you forever!

You became the pirate you wanted to be, now sail away.”

Chuck McIlvain, 44; Marybeth Guiney

Santa Monica resident Charles “Chuck” McIlvain was a visual effects designer at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Culver City, where he had worked for 15 years.

He was known for his work on such movies as “Watchmen,” Spider-Man” and “Green Lantern.”

He was a “radiant bright light in many peoples’ lives,” said Culver City Councilman Alex Fisch, who had been his friend since they shared the same dorm at UC Berkeley.

Fisch saw the news about the fire Monday morning.

Later, he checked Facebook and saw a post mentioning that McIlvain was diving in the Channel Islands.

Fisch texted McIlvain and McIlvain’s wife, Jasmine, to ask if they were OK.

Jasmine responded: Her husband had been on the boat.

“It was a total gut punch,” Fisch said. McIlvain, who recently had celebrated turning 44, was “someone who people cherished every moment with.”

Along with diving, McIlvain loved mountain biking and snowboarding.

To his friends, Fisch said, he was the brightest light in the room.

“I can’t emphasize enough the unique combination of creativity, intelligence and wonderful presence that he had,” Fisch said.

McIlvain had gone diving on the Conception with Marybeth Guiney, his close friend and neighbor in Santa Monica,

McIlvain’s family said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Carrie McLaughlin

Carrie McLaughlin.
Carrie McLaughlin; Kristian Takvam

Carrie McLaughlin and Kristian Takvam were employees at Brilliant, a website that creates interactive science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses.

McLaughlin was a senior software engineer and Takvam was vice president of engineering.

Both lived in Northern California.

“The loss of Carrie and Kristian is deeply heartbreaking for all of us at Brilliant,” Chief Executive Sue Khim wrote in a statement.

“Carrie and Kristian were incredible friends and colleagues who brought immense passion, talent, leadership, and warmth, and they will be missed dearly.”

Takva graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 2006 and a bachelor of arts degree in 2007.

McLaughlin studied computing in the arts and graduated from the UC San Diego in 2005.

Her Instagram page, where she described herself as a “painter of living beings,” showcases dozens of watercolor portraits and paintings of nature.

Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari

Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari.
(Rajul Sharma)
Kaustubh Nirmal; Sanjeeri Deopujari

Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari, who married two and a half years ago, were “the perfect couple,” said Nirmal’s cousin, Rajul Sharma.

“He found a soulmate in Sanjeeri,” Sharma said in an email, recalling their endearing and infectious smiles.

“Their love for each other was apparent even without them speaking about it.”

Sharma said he had known Nirmal since the day he was born.

An avid animal lover, Nirmal sensitive and polite, never wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.

The couple lived in greater New York City, where Nimral worked in finance and Deopujari was a dentist.

Nirmal grew up in Jaipur, and Deopujari was from Nagpur in central India, the Times of India reported.

“God took them away from us untimely and unfairly, but even he didn’t have the heart to separate them in death,” he said.


Michael Quitasol and Fernisa Sison.
Michael Quitasol, Fernisa Sison, Angela Rose Quitasol, Nicole Quitasol, Evan Quitasol

For the Quitasol family, the Labor Day weekend scuba diving trip to was supposed to be a celebration at sea.

Three sisters — Angela, Nicole and Evan Quitasol — set out Saturday with their father, Michael, and their stepmother, Fernisa Sison.

The family was celebrating Michael’s birthday with a luxurious three-day excursion that was to include diving amid the kelp forests, nature lectures and gourmet meals.

All five were aboard the 75-foot diving boat Conception when it caught fire and sank early Monday.

“They were the most kind, most loving people I’ve ever met, and I’m not just saying that because they’re family,” said their stepfather, Chris Rosas.

“The way they interacted with anyone they ever came across, they were wonderful.”

Evan was a nurse who worked in the emergency department of a Stockton-area hospital.

Sison was a nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente Central Valley, a spokesman said.

Nicole worked as a bartender in a lounge in Coronado, which allowed her to live near her beloved ocean, Rosas said.

“She loved the outdoors, loved animals, loved and lived by the sea,” he said.

Angela was a science teacher at Sierra Middle School in Stockton and was “wonderful with kids,” Rosas said.

She had played roller derby with the Port City Roller Girls in Stockton, where she skated under the name Hermione Danger, the team said on Facebook.

Angela was the maid of honor at her wedding of another sister, Evita, who was married two weeks ago.

Evan and Nicole were bridesmaids as well.

by— Matthew Ormseth



….. more will be added as it is made available…………..w