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A US-based Indian couple and an Indian-origin scientist were among those who died from smoke inhalation when they were trapped on a boat packed with scuba divers that caught fire and sank off the California coast, according to media reports.

The couple, Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari, lived in Connecticut and were among the people who died aboard the vessel, during a three-day diving excursion. Deopujari, 31, was a dentist in Norwalk while her husband, Nirmal, 44, worked as a senior adviser at Ernst & Young, the New York Post reported. 

On Monday, September 2, a massive fire broke out on the 75-foot charter boat called ‘Conception’ when the passengers were sleeping below the deck. The fire engulfed the deck, killing 34 people, including one crew member. Five crew members who were above the deck escaped by jumping overboard.

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Indian-origin scientist Sunil Singh Sandhu, 46, was also there on a dive vessel that sank off Santa Barbara in California. Sandhu lived and worked in the US for more than two decades, took up scuba diving only recently, his family in Singapore was quoted as saying by Singapore-based The New Paper.

The ship was carrying 33 passengers and six crew members, and only five of the crew sleeping on the top deck were able to escape by jumping off and taking a small boat to safety, the US officials said. Multiple investigations into the disaster are focused on determining what happened and have not become a criminal probe, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.

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The massive fire was reported to be one of California’s worst maritime disasters in decades.

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