Palo Alto High, Stanford graduates die in Conception boat fire

Dozens of people aboard died of smoke inhalation, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

A Palo Alto High School graduate and Stanford University alumnus are among the 34 people who died in the Conception boat fire on Labor Day in southern California.

Caroline McLaughlin, 35, was one of the people the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office named during a press conference on Sept. 6. She was aboard the 75-foot commercial diving boat that caught fire at around 3:30 a.m. early Monday near Santa Cruz Island and sank about four hours later.

Sunil Singh Sandhu, 45, of Half Moon Bay, also died in the blaze. Sandhu was listed in a complete list released on Friday, Sept. 13, of the boat fire victims who died. He was a Stanford University graduate who lived in Palo Alto and Half Moon Bay.

McLaughlin, who was known to her family and friends as Carrie, graduated from Paly in 2001 and the University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Computing in the Arts in 2005. She pursued a career in web design in the Bay Area, most recently as a senior software engineer at San Francisco-based, a website and online community that offers math, science and engineering courses. It was a job she loved, according to her father, Don McLaughlin.

Don McLaughlin said his daughter would have turned 36 on Sept. 16. She attended Addison Elementary and Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto. Her classmates voted her as the student who would "most likely to succeed in computers" when she was in her senior year at Paly, he said.

McLaughlin lived in Oakland. She spoke Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese and had a love for dance, according to her Facebook page. She was also a watercolorist who shared her works through the website

"She had a passion for art. She would be drawing or painting whenever she could," he said.

She was also a great lover of the outdoors.

"When we were in Yosemite this summer, she walked to the top of Yosemite Falls," her father said. Three weeks ago she competed in a triathlon in Oakland.

She took up scuba diving a few years ago and dove in locations such as Hawaii. The trip on the Conception was not her first to the Channel Islands. Last year she went on another diving excursion in the same area with some of the people who also died in the fire, he said.

Her parents said they remembered most that she was "an avid and active advocate" for those who needed help.

"She practiced kindness more than anybody else I have known. She was an advocate for women's rights and gay rights, and for helping anybody who needs help," Don McLaughlin said.

Her mother, Susan McLaughlin, said her daughter volunteered on weekends for an organization in or near Oakland to help girls learn how to program.

The McLaughlins and their older daughter, Laura, went to Santa Barbara on Sept. 3 to try to learn more about their daughter's fate. They stayed one night and returned on Sept. 4 after a sheriff's briefing when they couldn't find out any more information.

Don McLaughlin said he couldn't imagine how the parents of the person who remains missing are coping.

Besides her sister, Laura, Carrie McLaughlin had a brother-in-law and two young nephews. The family is still processing her loss and hasn't set any memorial plans yet, Don McLaughlin said last week.

Sunil Singh Sandhu's father, Sojit Singh, said in a Sept. 5 interview with Singaporean newspaper The New Paper that authorities asked his family for a DNA sample to match with his remains.

He recently began scuba diving, according to his father's interview with The New Paper. He was a native of Singapore and received his master's and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford and was a postdoctoral fellow at the university, where his research focused on the interaction between matter and light, according to his LinkedIn profile. He worked as a silicon photonics senior scientist at San Francisco-based Pointcloud Inc.

Pointcloud CEO Remus Nicolaescu declined to comment on the report about Sandhu's death.

"The company has decided to respect the family's wishes and not comment. We are following the lead of the family," he said by phone on Friday afternoon.

Sandhu was from Palo Alto, according to his LinkedIn account. He had addresses in Palo Alto and Half Moon Bay listed in Whitepages.

Of the 39 passengers on board, five people were rescued, 33 bodies have been found and one person remains missing, sheriff's officials said. The sheriff's office released nine names on Friday morning and 13 more names later in the day. The remaining individuals' names will be publicly announced once next of kin is notified.

McLaughlin was among the nine named at Friday's press conference. Also in the group was Raymond Scott Chan, a 59-year-old resident of Los Altos. He was a physics teacher at American High School in Fremont, the Fremont Unified School District said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Chan's daughter Kendra Chan, 26, of Los Altos, also perished in the fire, according to Palo Alto Online's sister newspaper the Mountain View Voice. She graduated from Mountain View High School in 2011. Her name was in a list released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office on Sept. 13, which stated Oxnard as her city of residence.

Many of the deceased are from Santa Cruz, San Jose and the Bay Area, according to sheriff's officials.

The sheriff's office is now investigating the cause of the fire with assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board, the United States Coast Guard, the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, and other agencies.

While the investigation is ongoing, Brown said Friday that early indications suggest that all the victims died from smoke inhalation. The burn damage, he said, appears to have occurred after they had already died.

Brown said the sheriff's office does not plan to perform autopsies on the recovered victims, noting that autopsies are not expected to change the pathologist's determination and that they would delay the process of releasing remains to family members.

"We have done external determinations, we have done toxicology tests, we have done a review of this entire process by our pathologist. ... Our pathologist is convinced, without having done the autopsy, that these victims were victims of smoke inhalation," Brown said.


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7 people like this
Posted by ?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2019 at 5:05 am

How sad!

Why is this in the movies section?

6 people like this
Posted by Gary Ruppel
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2019 at 10:29 am

So tragic. My thoughts and sympathies go out to all the families.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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