'A little bright star': Singaporean caught in California boat blaze was avid diver

'A little bright star': Singaporean caught in California boat blaze was avid diver

Tan Wei
Singaporean data scientist Tan Wei, 26, is feared dead after a boat that she was on caught fire off the coast of California. (Photo: Facebook/Tan Wei)

SINGAPORE: Ms Tan Wei, one of two Singaporeans who were on board a boat that caught fire and sank off the coast of California, comes from a family of avid divers, her sister told CNA.

Dive boat Conception sank off Santa Cruz Island after flames erupted suddenly early Monday morning (Sep 2). By Wednesday, the bodies of all but one of the 34 victims aboard the 23m vessel had been recovered.

Two Singaporeans - Ms Tan Wei, 26, and Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu, 46 - are listed on the passenger manifest of the Conception.

Ms Cheerin Tan, 29, told CNA that her family did not know if her sister was one of the 33 bodies found.

"But we have confirmation that her name is on the manifest so our family has accepted it. We are all avid divers and we know the outcome when such accidents happen," she said.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Cheerin announced the death of her sister and said that her elder brother, Sejay Tan, was in Santa Barbara to handle the paperwork and arrangements.

Mr Tan has sent in a DNA sample to help authorities identify the victims, and is currently waiting for the results.


The Tan family are no strangers to diving.

"She’s the most active one in the family and insisted on going diving when she was 10. So we did an adventure dive together as a family at Tioman," Cheerin said.

Tan Wei later got her diving licence with brother Sejay when she was 17.

She went to River Valley High School before moving to the US in 2012, where she studied chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, which her siblings also attended.

After graduation, she worked as a consultant for two years, before doing her master's degree at UC Berkeley.

Tan Wei graduated earlier this year and moved to Santa Barbara in June, where she started working as a data scientist.

According to Cheerin, Tan Wei was very excited about the diving trip and wanted to explore the area.

"She’s extremely close to her family, and WhatsApps us very often. So when we realised that our messages weren’t sending out we sensed something amiss," said Cheerin. "I was texting her just the night before the accident.

"She really enjoys outdoor sports so it’s at least comforting to know that she was doing something she loved in the last few moments of her life."

Cheerin told CNA that some of Tan Wei's friends in the US would be flying over to Santa Barbara for a memorial on Friday, while their parents find a resting place for her and make arrangements for Sejay to bring her back.

"She’s a very, very sweet girl who’s like a little bright star amongst her friends. Bursting with energy and joy," said her sister.


The other Singaporean on the boat, Dr Singh, is a research scientist who has a PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

He had picked up scuba diving only two months ago, reported The New Paper.

Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu
Singaporean research scientist Dr Sunil Singh Sandhu, 46, is feared dead after a boat that he was on caught fire off the coast of California. (Photo: Facebook/Sunil Sandhu)

"My son had a beautiful character. He was always smiling and never short-tempered. That is how I will always remember him," his father Sojit Singh told TNP.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims but more details have emerged about them in the days since the fire.

The 34 victims, including passengers and one crew member, were sleeping below deck. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said the two exits, a stairway to the galley and an escape hatch may have both been blocked by fire.

The aftermath of the blaze onboard the Conception diving boat
The aftermath of the blaze onboard the Conception diving boat on Sep 3, 2019. (Photo: Facebook/Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office)

A family of five, a teacher and his daughter, and a diving instructor and marine biologist were among those believed to have died, according to local media.

Also killed were Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz, a couple from Arizona who were passionate about diving and "died doing something that they loved together," Baltz's father John told local media.

Another victim was marine biologist Kristy Finstad, 41, who was leading the dive trip and co-owned Worldwide Diving Adventures that chartered the boat for a three-day excursion.

The only survivors of the accident, the captain and four crew members, were on deck when the flames erupted shortly after 3am Pacific time and were able to escape in an inflatable life boat, investigators said.

Source: CNA/Agencies/ic(hm)