Two long-time Ahwatukee residents are feared to have been on the ill-fated dive boat that caught on fire and sank Monday off the coast of Santa Cruz island, killing at least 25 people and possibly as many as 34.
Neal Baltz and Patricia Beitzinger were privately confirmed to have been passengers on the boat, although as of Tuesday morning their names were not among the confirmed dead.
“I called the Coast Guard and they didn’t have a manifest yet,” said Scott Ryan. He and his wife are long-time friends of Mr. Baltz and Ms. Beitzinger.
“We have been told they were on that boat,” Ryan said, adding he and his wife had been trying to call them repeatedly from Monday evening to no avail.
He said the Coast Guard representative “sounded pretty shaken” when they spoke on Monday night. Neither Mr. Baltz not Ms. Beitzinger were among the deceased who have been officially identified, Ryan added.
Mr. Baltz and Ms. Beitzinger have lived together in Ahwatukee for about 10 years, Ryan said, adding that for the past year or so they had been living in a rental house she owns in Chandler while their Ahwatukee home was being repaired after a flood caused extensive damage.
Ryan said he talked to them on Friday night about a trip the couple had been planning to the Northwest this month.
“We thought they were in the Northwest and then we found out last night (Monday) that they were apparently on that boat,” said Ryan, who was planning to retrieve the couple’s dog from a kennel later Tuesday afternoon.
He said a friend of the couple had posted their picture on a Facebook page and indicated they were among the passengers on the Conception.
Mr. Baltz and Ms. Beitzinger are both skilled scuba divers and have gone diving around the world.
“They had a lot of neat experiences,” he said, adding that sometimes they also encountered scary situations.
“The last time we were worried about them was when they went to Indonesia and they had that volcanic eruption slash earthquake,” Ryan said.
Five crew members managed to escape the fire that quickly engulfed the boat but officials in California expressed little hope of finding additional survivors.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a host of local, state and federal investigators are trying to determine exactly what went wrong on the 75-foot vessel — once described by California Diving News as “California’s crown jewel of live-aboard dive boats.”
Victims who had signed up for a three-day dive excursion were believed to be in their bunks below deck when the fire of unknown origin started.
The boat was about 20 yards off the north shore of Santa Cruz Island, part of the Channel Islands off the Ventura County coast and 39 people were on board when the fire broke out, the Times reported.
“Most everybody was asleep,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, noting the combination of the remote location, rapidly spreading fire and victims’ vulnerable position on the boat. “You couldn’t ask for a worse situation.”
The distress call came on Coast Guard radios around 3:15 a.m. Monday as flames engulfed the vessel and one crew member was recorded saying there was no escape hatch for the passengers sleeping below.
That news upset Ryan, who said, “You’d think there’d be another way to get out. But then, they all are describing that boat as a real jewel.”
Still, he said, “it made me a little angry reading” the initial accounts of the tragedy” and that he wondered, “why aren’t there any kind of fire exits, that type of thing.”
A 2003 graduate of the University of Texas with a degree in electrical engineering, Mr. Baltz is a chip design engineer for a company affiliated with Microchip, according to his LinkedIn account. Ms. Beitzinger is a nutritionist in Scottsdale who is affiliated with Scottsdale Cardiology.
Both apparently are in their 40s. They have no children.
Ryan said he and his wife tried to get together every Tuesday to play Trivia with the couple, although they had not seen each other for two or three weeks.
He said their phone conversation on Friday was brief.
“We weren’t aware that they were going there, but that’s just kind of their lifestyle. They do a lot these trips,” said Ryan.
“We’ve been praying that they weren’t on there, but it’s not looking good,” Ryan said.