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Bay Area Teacher and His Daughter Among 34 Dead in Diving Boat Fire

Five crew members were rescued, and the bodies of 20 victims have been recovered

An East Bay high school teacher and his daughter were among the 34 people who died in a diving boat fire early Monday morning off the coast of Santa Barbara.

Scott Chan, a physics teacher at American High School in Fremont, was on board the Conception with his daughter Kendra when the vessel went up in flames.

Chan's wife of 35 years, Vicki Moore, said her husband and daughter lived their lives with passion and purpose. Kendra, 26, grew up exploring, becoming a certified diver by age 12. Scott was an adventurer at heart, Moore said.

It was her husband and daughter's last trip of the year together, she said.

"I knew that was their boat, and panic set in," Moore said of learning about the boat fire early Monday morning.

Kendra graduated from Mountain View High School and worked as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

"She was in the process of growing as a person, and that is what makes this so devastating," Moore said.

Scott always gave back, she said, at times traveling thousands of miles to help protect a coral reef.

"He had a brilliant side of him," Moore said of her husband, a Stanford graduate who left the world of tech to become a teacher.

The school district said in a statement that Chan taught Advance Placement physics classes for the past three years at the school and was well liked.

"His students knew him to be an innovative and inspiring teacher who developed a passion for physics among his students," the district said in a statement. "His loss is a tremendous tragedy for our school district."

Chan said on his LinkedIn page that his teaching was fed by his "passion and wealth of real-world experience from research laboratories, and the electronics, computer, and high-performance automotive industries."

Five crew members were rescued, and the bodies of 33 victims have been recovered so far. Many need to be identified by DNA analysis, and officials are collecting samples from family members.

Also below deck were students from Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz. School director Maria C. Reitano declined Tuesday to say how many students went on the trip, which was not sponsored by the school.

Brett Harmeling of Houston said that his sister Kristy Finstad, 41, was leading the scuba tour off Santa Cruz Island, part of California's Channel Islands.

Harmeling thanked everyone in a post on his Facebook page for their "unconditional love and support during this incredibly tragic time."

Finstad was co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures based in Santa Cruz, which is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Santa Cruz Island.

Finstad knew the area well, having done hundreds of dives in the Channel Islands, where she first swam with her father as a toddler. She first dove with a tank off Mexico at age 9, according to her company's website.

Harmeling described his sister to the Los Angeles Times as extremely strong-willed and adventurous.

"If there was a one percent chance of her making it, she would have made it," Harmeling, 31, said.

In Stockton, California, a broken-hearted mother posted on her Facebook page Tuesday that her three daughters, their father and his wife were among those presumed dead in the fire.

Susana Rosas thanked people for their prayers and support.

The family of five, celebrating a birthday with an activity they enjoyed, was among 34 people presumed dead in the blaze. All were sleeping below deck when the fire started early Monday. Other victims included students from a Northern California charter school serving grades 7-12, a high school science teacher and his daughter, an Arizona couple and a marine biologist who owned the diving company and was leading the tour.

Rosas posted that her three daughters -- Evan, Nicole and Angela Quitasol --were on the Conception with their father Michael Quitasol and stepmother Fernisa Sison.

Evan Quitasol was a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center of Stockton, where her father and Sison had worked after attending nursing school at San Joaquin Delta College.

Sison also worked at the college teaching first-year nursing students full-time in 2005 and 2006 and later as an adjunct instructor, according to the school's spokesman, Alex Breitler.

The sisters were on the trip to celebrate their dad's birthday, Chris Rosas said. He described them as "the most kind, most loving people I've ever met -- and I'm not just saying that because they're family."

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