California boat fire: Singaporean Sunil Singh Sandhu confirmed among 34 dead

California boat fire: Singaporean Sunil Singh Sandhu confirmed among 34 dead

Sunil Singh Sandhu
Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu was 45 years old when he died. (Photo: Geetajeet Kaur)

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean who had been living in the San Francisco Bay Area has been confirmed to be among the 34 victims in a boat fire in California.

Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu was 45 when he died in the fire that erupted on diving boat Conception on Sep 2, while it was sailing off Santa Cruz island.

His sister, Ms Geetajeet Kaur, told CNA on Thursday (Sep 12) that the family will be flying to the United States on Saturday evening to carry out his cremation there, after DNA tests concluded that Dr Sunil was among the victims.

"We still are trying to come to terms with this tragedy," she said.

Prior to the confirmation, Ms Geetajeet had said: "We still can't believe Sunil is gone."

"He has lived a full life and certainly touched and blessed everyone. He is a gem, one in a billion," she said in a message.

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Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Thursday confirmed that two Singaporeans are among the victims of the blaze.

"The Ministry would like to express our deepest condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time," it said.

MFA expressed its appreciation for the assistance provided by the US authorities, adding that it will work closely with them in supporting the families of the two Singaporeans.

All the bodies of the victims in the disaster have been recovered as divers on Wednesday retrieved the remains of the final victim.

On the same day, the US Coast Guard issued a safety bulletin focusing on emergency escape routes, crew training and the charging of lithium-ion batteries.

READ: FBI seeks evidence in deadly California boat fire

The Coast Guard did not identify a cause of the fire in its safety bulletin, but the document suggests that investigators may be looking into the possibility that the fire was ignited by the charging of electronic devices.

The blaze, which happened in the middle of the night, has prompted an investigation by multiple local and federal law enforcement agencies.


Ms Geetajeet said Sunil's good friends in the US has been offering assistance to the family, including with paperwork and writing up his biography, which she shared with CNA.

Dr Sunil was described by his friends as "deeply loved by his family and friends" and having lived "a carefree life in work and play". 

A senior scientist in silicon photonics at PointCloud, a nanotechnology startup, Dr Sunil spoke French, Japanese, Russian, Mandarin, Malay and English.

He was a diehard football fan who counted Barcelona and Liverpool as his favourite teams, they added.

"Sunil developed the same long-term disciplined approach to health and fitness, as he did to his study of dance, piano and language," his biography reads.

Sunil Singh Sandhu
Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu was "deeply loved by his family and friends", reads a biography written by his friends. (Photo: Geetajeet Kaur)

An alumnus of Saint Andrew's Junior College, Dr Sunil went on to study at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. He completed his Master's degree and doctorate at Stanford University.

He then worked as a post-doctoral research scientist at Stanford and at startups in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

Sunil Singh Sandhu (1)
Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu was a "committed practical scientist" who had received two patents and published 17 articles. (Photo: Geetajeet Kaur)

As a "committed practical scientist", Dr Sunil had been granted two patents and published 17 articles in photonics, nanotechnology, solar energy, photovoltaics, wireless energy transfer, electromagnetic numerical simulators and acoustics.

Enumerating the scientist's "eclectic interests", his friends wrote in his biography: "While the age of renaissance men may be long gone, Sunil was a recent living embodiment of that spirit."

Source: CNA/jt(hm)