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Three sisters celebrating dad’s birthday feared lost in California boat fire

Two people embrace
JJ Lambert embraces Jenna Marsala near the Sea Landing offices in Santa Barbara Harbor, where the Conception departed.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

The three sisters — Angela, Nicole and Evan Quitasol — were celebrating their father’s birthday with a Labor Day weekend diving adventure around the Channel Islands.

They are believed to be among the 34 people killed when a fire broke out aboard the ship Monday morning.

Evan was a nurse who worked in the emergency department of a Stockton-area hospital. Nicole worked as a bartender in a lounge in Coronado, which allowed her to live near her beloved ocean, said their stepfather, Chris Rosas. “She loved the outdoors, loved animals, loved and lived by the sea,” he said.

A commercial diving boat caught fire near the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, Calif., early Monday. Many aboard the boat were believed to be sleeping below deck when the fire broke out in the pre-dawn hours.
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Angela was a middle school science teacher with the Lincoln Unified School district in Stockton, Rosas said, and “wonderful with kids.”

Angela was the maid of honor at her wedding of her sister, Evita, who was married two weeks ago. Evan and Nicole were bridesmaids as well, Rosas said.

“I’d want [your readers] to know they’re the most kind, most loving people I’ve ever met — and I’m not just saying that because they’re family,” Rosas said. “The way they interacted with anyone they came across, they were wonderful. They were outstanding girls. That’s about all I can tell you right now.”

Rosas and his wife learned of the fire around midday Monday, he said, and they immediately drove from the family’s Stockton home to Santa Barbara, where they’ve been waiting at a family center set up on some fairgrounds.

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The boat fire rocked the small, tightknit diving community in Southern California. Many have formed friendships bound by a passion for ocean exploring.

As of Tuesday morning, the remains of 20 people — 11 female and 9 male — have been found. Fourteen people are still missing. Officials called off the search at 9:40 a.m. after spending roughly a day combing across 160 miles of the Pacific. A flyover of the area showed no additional signs of distress or debris in the water, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester.

Between four and six victims were seen in the wreckage on Monday, but they were unable to be recovered before nightfall. Crews will try to stabilize the boat so divers can safely enter it and remove the bodies, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

Five crew members, who had been awake and jumped overboard, survived the devastating fire. A sixth crew member who was asleep in the same area as the passengers is feared to be dead. Thirty-nine people were on board when the fire broke out. Officials expressed little hope of finding anyone else alive.


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