ANAHEIM HILLS, CA — Near the one year anniversary of a dive boat fire that claimed the lives of 34 people off the coast of Santa Barbara, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday it would hold a meeting on the agency’s investigation of that incident.
Anaheim Hills resident and Big Fish Employer Services founder Justin Dignam was among the nearly three dozen people trapped aboard the Conception when it sank amid a three-day Labor Day weekend diving trip to the Channel Islands in 2019.
The 75-foot commercial diving vessel was anchored in Platts Harbor off Santa Cruz Island when it caught fire in the early morning hours last Sept. 2, killing one crew member and 33 passengers. Only five people, all crew members, managed to escape the inferno that engulfed the dive boat Monday morning.
The NTSB’s five-member board will meet Oct. 20 to vote on the agency’s findings, probable cause, recommendations, and any changes to the draft final report.
In keeping with established social distancing guidelines to prevent the coronavirus spread, the board meeting will be webcast to the public, with the board members and investigative staff meeting virtually.
Dignam’s family was first to file a lawsuit alleging that the 41-year-old Conception was in blatant violation of numerous Coast Guard regulations. Among them, failing to maintain an overnight “roving” safety watch and failure to provide a safe means for storing and charging lithium-ion batteries, and that the below-decks passenger accommodations lacked emergency exits.
“Justin was a passionate longtime member of the water polo community from his days playing college water polo to his continued involvement in the masters water polo community,” The USA. Water Polo Association wrote about him. “Justin founded Big Fish Payroll, and his company has served as a proud partner and payroll services provider of USA Water Polo for the better part of the last decade. Justin was also a strong supporter of our women’s national team, providing financial support to the team members, including US Olympians Courtney Mathewson and Rachel Fattal.”
A fund established in his honor raised over $22,000 for the USA. Senior Women’s Water Polo team.
Justin Digman was a family man, beloved by all who knew him. He founded the Big Fish Payroll Service agency, and was a longtime member of the water polo community in Orange County. He also started the program, Feed the Brave, to give back to first responders.
A shrine of candles and flowers appeared on the Santa Barbara dock, where the Conception was scheduled to return after the fire. A pair of blue fins were placed at the memorial with the message “We love you Conception,” written on them.
– City News Service and Patch Editor Nicole Charky contributed to this report.