Jerry Boylan — Captain Who Jumped Overboard When Ship Caught Fire And Killed 34 — Charged With Manslaughter

Photo: YouTube
Jerry Boylan

A tragedy just off the California coast devastated the local diving community last year.

A well-known diving boat, "Conception," caught fire in the early hours of September 3, 2019. Jerry Boylan, the captain of the vessel, leaped from the boat to get away and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, and the rest of the crew followed closely behind him.

Still remaining on the vessel, though, were more than 30 men and women who paid for a Labor Day dive getaway weekend and wound up losing their lives when they were trapped below deck.

Now, Jerry Boylan has been charged with 34 counts of manslaughter and is expected to surrender to federal authorities in the next few days.

Who is Jerry Boylan?

Read on to find out everything you need to know about Jerry Boylan and the unfathomable tragedy that rocked a small coastal town in California.

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Jerry Boylan was the captain of The Conception.

The "Conception" was a dive boat based out of Santa Barbara, California.

Her captain is a man named Jerry Boylan. In Sept. 2019, the boat caught fire just 20 yards from shore leaving 34 people trapped below deck with no way to get out.

When the boat caught fire, Boylan leaped from the vessel, abandoning the 34 sleeping passengers in the berth.

It's an appalling tragedy, and one that has left grief and many questions. 

Boylan ignored safety protocols. 

According to local authorities, there's always one member of a ship's crew who is supposed to serve as the night-watch, currently, authorities are looking into that and many other aspects of the tragedy.

It is believed that when the fire started, everyone who was below deck (39 people in total) were most likely sound asleep.

It is believed that both the escape hatch and the stairs above deck were quickly eaten up by fire, making it impossible to escape. 

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The night it happened, the Ventura County Marine Coast Guard recorded the events.

The Ventura County Marine Coast Guard channel recorded some of the events.

In the recordings, you can hear the representative from the Coast Guard in conversation with a captain who is calling for emergency assistance because his boat is on fire.

In the recording, the captain says he has 33 people on board and then changes that number to 34, explaining that there is also a crew member caught below deck.

The Coast Guard encourages the captain in the recording to get back to the boat and free up the escape hatch. 

“They cannot get off …are they locked inside the boat? Can you get back on board and unlock the doors so they can get off? Was that all the crew that jumped off? Is this the captain?” 

Some crew members survived.

In addition to the captain, five crew members on the boat were awake when it caught on fire and immediately jumped off of the vessel.

Apparently, because the crew members sleep on the top deck, they were able to escape.

While they are still waiting to count every life of every person who was on the ship, the working theory now is that it would have been impossible for any of the passengers locked in the bottom-most deck to be able to have made it off the boat alive.

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The boat has an interesting past.

The boat had a complicated past. Back in 2005, it was stolen. 

“A thief made off with one of Santa Barbara’s most popular dive boats early Wednesday morning, crashing into and partially sinking a fishing boat during an erratic exit from the harbor before the vessel ran aground in an area dubbed the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” said a local report.

It was later found that the boat was taken by a man named Donald Kelly, a transient homeless man.

Twelve hours after he took off with the boat, he ran it aground (after hitting three other boats). Kelly was found not far from the boat, clutching several different bits of food he stole from the ship's kitchen. 

Jerry Boylan was charged with 34 counts of manslaughter on Dec. 1.

Jerry is an experienced professional. His father was in the Coast Guard when he was a kid and he started diving himself when he was just five-years-old.

He has worked professionally as a captain since 1985 and by all reports is thorough when it comes to safety on every ship where he is at the helm.

However, after a year-long investigation, it was determined that Jerry was responsible for all 34 deaths, with U.S. attorney Nick Hanna citing Boylan's "misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties” as factors in the largely preventable tragedy.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cats, Batman and Margot. She's an experienced generalist with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, pop culture, and true crime.