Identifying the Victims of the Conception Boat Fire

On Labor Day, 2019, The Conception caught fire on the last day of a 3-day diving trip off of the coast of California. Tragically, all 33 passengers and 1 crew member perished in the fire.


In this interview, Kimberly Gin, Coroner at the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office shares how she and a Deputy Coroner assisted Santa Barbara in identifying all of the victims in under 8 days using an ANDE Rapid DNA instrument.





Travis: Here I am, sitting with here with Kimberly, Kim, and we’re having a great time hanging out at ISHI 30.


Kim: Let’s talk about the Conception fire. We didn’t get to cover that. So, the Conception fire, have you heard of it?


Travis: I have not.


Kim: Ok, so in Santa Barbara, on Labor Day, the fire that broke out. Santa Barbara asked us to come down to their county and do identifications. And, while I was being asked to come down there, Dr. Seldon was emailing me, asking me, was I going to Santa Barbara. Did I hear about it? And, I responded to him, yes, we were going to go and help out Santa Barbara. So, we went down there. We took the ANDE instrument and we ended up… It was myself and one of my deputy coroners that went down and we ended up using Rapid DNA and identifying all 34 victims in under 8 days. With one person running the instrument the entire time.

Travis: That’s actually quite impressive.


Kim: In layman’s terms, we were able to get DNA profiles in 2 hours on the victims and the family samples.


Travis: And were all of these samples from charred, burned remains?


Kim: They were.


Travis: That’s fantastic. So, just because I don’t know the technology… So you find these samples, and then do you also go to the family and get a sample or how does that work out?


Kim: So they set up a family assistance center in Santa Barbara, but many of the family members were out of the country, so the FBI actually got involved and sent agents out to get family reference samples. So, that was the lag time. That’s why it took us 8 days. Otherwise, I think we would have been done in 3 or 4 days.


It’s actually a great story. I mean it’s a sad story. One of the victims from the fire, her family member was killed on the boat, and he actually was someone who worked in the forensic science field, and he knew how long it would take for DNA and she was amazed. He was one of the first ones we identified, and she was amazed that it took less than a day to get her an answer.


Travis: That’s really impressive. Well, thanks so much for sitting down with me and having a chit chat. Hopefully, we’ll see you at Promega ISHI 31.


Kim: Absolutely, I love Texas.