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California boat fire victims came from all walks of life

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The dozens of people who perished as flames engulfed a dive boat off the Southern California coast came from many walks of life. They included two high schoolers, a hairdresser, a marine biologist, software engineers, a special effects designer for Disney, a nature photographer, a nurse and a family of five celebrating a birthday.

Their common love of scuba diving brought them to the ruggedly beautiful coastline of the Channel Islands for a three-day excursion. Thirty-four people died when the Conception caught fire before dawn on Labor Day as it anchored off Santa Cruz Island.

Flames above deck blocked the one stairway and an emergency exit hatch leading from sleeping bunks to the upper decks and gave those below virtually no chance of getting out, authorities said.

Only one person remained missing on Wednesday. Divers pulled 33 bodies from the seabed and the charred wreckage of the sunken, overturned boat.

Five crew members, including the captain, were above deck and managed to escape.

The only crew member to die was Allie Kurtz, 26, who quit her corporate job at Paramount Pictures to work on dive boats. Kurtz, who grew up in Illinois, had recently been promoted to deckhand.

“Her love was just always, always the water,” Kurtz’s grandmother, Doris Lapporte, 71, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “She would joke, ‘I am going to be a pirate one day.’”

The captain, the boat’s owner and others were interviewed for hours as the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the fire, NTSB member Jennifer Homendy said Tuesday.

Four crew members were given tests for alcohol, which were negative, and all five survivors had drug tests but the results are pending, Homendy said.

The Conception wasn’t required by federal regulation to have fire sprinklers aboard, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Those killed included Apple engineer Steve Salika and his wife, Diana Adamic, who went on the trip with their daughter Tia Salika to celebrate the teen’s 17th birthday, company senior vice president Deirdre O’Brien told The Mercury News newspaper. Apple colleague Dan Garcia joined them.

Tia was with Berenic Felipe, a fellow student at Pacific Collegiate Charter School in Santa Cruz, according to a letter sent to the school community obtained by NBC News.

Also aboard was visual effects designer Charles McIlvain, who was known for his work on films such as “Spider-Man” and “Green Lantern.”

Lisa Fiedler was a 52-year-old hairdresser and photographer from the community of Mill Valley north of San Francisco, her mother, Nancy Fiedler, told San Francisco’s ABC affiliate, KGO television.

San Francisco-based Education platform Brilliant confirmed that senior software engineer Carrie McLaughlin and Kristian Takvam, vice president of engineering, were aboard.

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