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Kristy Finstad
Kristy Finstad
Burning Conception, Dick's Harbor,
Santa Cruz Island, September 2, 2019
Bird Rock, Santa Catalina Island

FINSTAD, Kristina Oline (c. 1978-2019), marine biologist killed aboard the dive boat Conception fire on September 2, 2019.

Finstad was a NAUI instructor with a degree in Aquatic Biology and a spirit of adventure. She had a knack for planning and thousands of dives under her belt. “There’s nothing better than seeing divers’ dream vacations come true.” Kristy’s first dives were under her father, Bill’s arm, a toddler breathing from his octopus in the Channel Islands; her first tank worn in Cozumel when she was nine. Twice funded by the National Science Foundation, Kristy studied damselfish and corals in the Tahitian Islands; she was also a full-scholar abroad in Costa Rica and Australia. Kristy’s employment history includes research diving for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, authoring a restoration guidebook for the California Coastal Commission, diving for black pearls in the Tuamotus, and counting salmonids for the City of Santa Cruz. “My mission is to inspire appreciation for our underwater world. I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the service of helping people invest in experiences of a lifetime.” Lover of travel and culture, Kristy sailed across the South Pacific with her husband Dan, finding new and amazing places to bring Worldwide Diving Adventurers… with some surf and yoga on the side.

Described as a free spirit who's in touch with nature, Finstad was one of the first reported to be onboard as her company, Worldwide Diving Adventures chartered Conception for Labor Day weekend. Finstad was a Marine Biologist and skilled diver who received her Bachelor's Degree from UC Santa Barbara. She was 41 years old from Santa Cruz, CA.

Kristy Finstad is survived by husband, Dan Chua; parents, Rita (Al) Harmeling, and Bill (Megan) Finstad; siblings, Jessica (Jeffrey) Finstad, Heather (Chris) Sawdon, Sarah Finstad, Brett (Lucia) Harmeling, and Andrew Harmeling; nieces and nephews, Sierra, Joseph, and Haley; aunts, Sally Harmeling, and Kathy (Roger) Voskuil.

Her company sponsored an annual Labor Day weekend dive trip to the Channel Islands for many years. The 2019 website advertised this Labor Day trip:

Labor Day Weekend; Northern Channel Islands Date(s) 08/31/2019 - 09/02/2019
$665* The Liveaboard Truth Aquatics live-aboards are designed by divers for divers. Their commitment to service shows through the smiles of crewmembers that love their jobs and undergo special safety training. The Galley folks cook up some gourmet cuisine! We’re on the Conception for this holiday weekend.

The Destination. On the Labor Day trip, divers have the unique opportunity to explore the pinnacles of San Miguel Island. The beginning of September is the best time to be at San Mig, which see strong winds and swell during much of the year. This rarely visited island is loaded with color: anemones, crabs, nudibranchs covering every inch of wall with a rainbow. Great for macro-photography. Nutrient rich waters bathing this island bring BIG fish: halibut, bugs, rockfish, wolfeels, lingcod. The precipitous geology at Boomerang, Skyscrapers, Richardson’s and Wilson’s Rock will blow you away. The island also hosts pristine shallow reefs hosting an incredibly diverse collection of sea life. Night dives are delightful; octopi roam the reefs and bioluminescent zooplankton flash colors to silhouette the diver. Other destinations may include Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara Islands.

We will meet at the Santa Barbara Harbor on Friday night, boarding anytime after 8pm. Fall asleep with the Conception departing at 4am, Saturday morning. The boat will return on Monday (Labor Day) about 5pm. The Sea Landing Dive Center is located within steps from the Truth Aquatic vessels for convenient equipment rental (tanks and weights are not provided on-board). See more details “Preparing for your Channel Islands Trip” on our Currents page. Marine Biologist Kristy brings her microscope to show divers silicious spicules and pumping pedicellariae– the colors on marine invertebrates are amazing up close!

Worldwide Diving Adventures, PO Box 1019, Twin Bridges, CA 95735

In the News~

September 2, 2019 [NY Daily News]: “The doomed Santa Cruz diving boat that caught fire and sank early Monday off the coast of Southern California had been chartered by a local adventure company owned by a marine biologist — who is among the missing and feared dead. “Please pray for my sister Kristy!” wrote Brett Harmeling, brother of Kristy Finstad, on Facebook. “She was leading a dive trip on this boat,” he said. Finstad co-owns the Worldwide Diving Adventures company, which chartered the 75-foot vessel — dubbed the Conception — through Truth Aquatics, a Santa Barbara-based boating operation. Worldwide Diving was reportedly founded in 1972 by Finstad’s father, Bill Finstad, and later passed down to her upon his retirement. She and her husband, Dan Chua, run the business and lead excursions as licensed scuba instructors. Chua is leading a dive trip off Costa Rica, according to Finstad’s brother, who was supposed to be with her on the Conception during the Labor Day Weekend getaway. “I was going to be on this trip,” he told a Facebook user. Attempts to reach Harmeling were unsuccessful on Monday night. Friends and families were sending their condolences to him after authorities announced that almost everyone on board the Conception when the fire broke out was missing and feared dead. “We are praying and loving your family through all of this,” said one person. To which Harmeling replied, “Thank you.” Finstad is described on the Worldwide Diving site as “a NAUI instructor with a degree in Aquatic Biology and a spirit of adventure.” “There’s nothing better than seeing divers’ dream vacations come true,” she’s quoted as saying. “My mission is to inspire appreciation for our underwater world. I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the service of helping people invest in experiences of a lifetime.” Authorities had recovered at least four bodies as of 4:30 p.m. local time Monday — and located another four on the bottom of the ocean floor, according to officials. Thirty-nine people were said to have been aboard the ship. Five members of the crew were rescued after the incident was first reported. The remaining 26 people who have been unaccounted for are feared dead, with local police suspecting that their remains are still trapped inside the Conception. “We will search all the way through the night, into the morning,” said Capt. Monica Rochester, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, at a press conference. “But we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome.”

September 2, 2019 [NY Daily News]: “Marine biologist Kristy Finstad helped lead the excursion for Worldwide Diving, her family’s company, and was still missing as of Monday afternoon, her brother told the Daily News. “We’re still waiting to hear, unfortunately. It’s not looking good,” brother Brett Harmeling, 31, said in a phone interview. “She’d be the person who could make it if it’s possible. She could hold her breath for an insane amount of time. It just doesn’t sound like there was a chance for anyone to get out,” he said. “She’s a very strong, strong woman,” he said. “But they’ve been searching for a long time already.” Finstad, 41, helped organize the trip with husband Dan Chua through the family’s company, Worldwide Diving Adventures. The company took the group out on the 75-foot Conception owned and operated by Truth Aquatics in Santa Barbara. Chua did not join his wife on the trip and was leading a separate group in Costa Rica, Harmeling said. “She’s done this trip hundreds of times,” he said of the Labor Day weekend SCUBA trip. The three-day live aboard diving tour was advertised as a $665-per-person chance to see octopi, colorful anemones, crabs, halibut, wolf eels and bioluminescent zooplankton in the waters around the Channel Islands. It’s believed the 33 people who were not crew members were sleeping below the deck when the fire erupted. Officials did not immediately comment on a possible cause. Harmeling said another sister who works for the diving company was in touch with the Coast Guard and had not received any word that Finstad was among the five who survived. He said his sister likely wouldn’t be considered a crew member because she didn’t work for the boat’s operator. Harmeling described his sister as a “free spirit” with a Masters in marine biology. “She’s really in touch with nature. She knows everything about the ocean. She’s been diving almost as long as she’s been walking,” he told The News. “She’s very intuitive, very loving and very adventurous,” he said. In a Facebook post, Harmeling asked others to pray for his family. “Please pray for my sister Kristy!! She was leading a dive trip on this boat,” he wrote. The Conception burst into flames around 3 a.m. Monday, with five crew members jumping into the water before they were saved by a passing pleasure vessel. Four other people were later confirmed dead by Coast Guard officials, and another 29 were the subject of an intense search operation that stretched for hours. Five Conception crew members awake when the fire broke out survived by jumping into the water, officials said. They were picked up by a pleasure boat called The Grape Escape said officials.”

September 4, 2019 [Sheboygan Press]: “Oostburg High grad lost in California boat fire is remembered for zest for learning, selflessness. SHEBOYGAN - A day after the boat she was on caught fire and trapped 34 people off the Southern California coast, Kristy Finstad was remembered for her passion for learning and selflessness. “If she had a chance, she would have helped anyone but herself get off that boat,” said Al Harmeling, Finstad’s stepfather. Finstad, an Oostburg High graduate, is among 34 who were trapped on the boat’s lower deck as flames blocked both exits. All are presumed dead. Her mother, Rita Harmeling, was headed to Santa Barbara on Wednesday to provide a DNA sample to aid with identification. Rita Harmeling said before leaving Wednesday that there was “a big hole in my heart that won’t be fixed for a long time.” Al, who lives in Oostburg, spoke proudly of when Finstad won a prestigious Kohler Foundation scholarship as a senior in high school. She studied marine biology at the University of California-Santa Barbara and planned on returning to school to get a master’s degree. Finstad and her husband recently bought a house and were looking forward to settling down. Finstad, 41, was leading a three-day scuba diving trip and had chartered the boat for Worldwide Diving Adventures, which she co-owned with her husband and father, Bill. She first swam in the area with her father as a toddler and had done hundreds of dives there. Living an adventurous life, Finstad dove for black pearls in the French Polynesia Tuamotus Islands, studied damselfish and corals in the Tahitian Islands and conducted research for the Australian Institute of Marine Science. She counted salmonids for the city of Santa Cruz and wrote a restoration guidebook for the California Coastal Commission. Most recently, she and her husband sailed across the South Pacific. “I remember Kristy as this really exceptional young lady with huge horizons,” said Scott Greupink, principal of Oostburg High School, where she graduated in 1996. Information about services wasn't immediately available Wednesday. Brett Harmeling, Finstad’s brother, said he is thankful for an outpouring of encouragement and support, and he extends his sympathy and condolences to the other families involved. The boat was anchored in the Channel Islands west of Los Angeles when the fire broke out shortly after 3 a.m. Monday. As of midday Wednesday, the bodies of 33 of the 34 presumed dead had been recovered, and the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating the cause of the fire.”

September 17, 2019 []: “Kristina Oline Finstad, died on Monday, September 2, 2019, while on the ocean doing what she loved, at the age of 41. Kristy was born Feb. 6, 1978 in Santa Cruz, CA to Bill Finstad and Rita Harmeling. She graduated from Oostburg High School, WI and received the Kohler Foundation scholarship. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara, CA, in Aquatic Biology, where she met her amazing husband Dan Chua. She inspired passion for the ocean through her business, Worldwide Diving Adventures. Kristy was a strong, smart, and talented woman who shared her beautiful spirit with others as a NAUI Dive Instructor and Yoga Instructor. Kristy authored a book Digging In: A Guide to Community-based Habitat Restoration, which the California Coastal Commission still distributes. She had recently returned from a four-year journey sailing across the Pacific Ocean and was putting down roots in Lake Tahoe, CA. Kristy loved hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the California Redwood Forests, smelling the wildflowers and long walks along the beaches of Lake Michigan and Baja California. She also celebrated life with surfing, skiing, writing, playing guitar, art projects, making bread and spending time with family. Even in this fast-paced digital age, Kristy was the type of person who would send a handwritten birthday card through the mail or a post card from some far-flung destination and get it to the loved one on time. She was a thoughtful and compassionate person who could light up a room with her smile and energy. She is survived by her husband, Dan Chua; parents, Rita (Al) Harmeling, and Bill (Megan) Finstad; siblings, Jessica (Jeffrey) Finstad-Galloway, Heather (Chris) Sawdon, Sarah Finstad, Brett (Lucia) Harmeling, and Andrew Harmeling; nieces and nephews, Sierra, Joseph, and Haley; aunts, Sally Harmeling, Kathy (Roger) Voskuil, and Aunt Liane Finstad, and many cousins.

Visitation will be held on Saturday, Sep. 21, 2019, from 12 pm until 3 pm, at Wenig Funeral Home in Oostburg, WI. A memorial reception will be held from 5 pm until 8 pm at Al and Rita’s, N1421 Cottage Drive in Oostburg. Guests are welcome to bring a beverage, snack to share, and a chair if they wish. Beach attire suggested in memory of Kristy. Private inurnment will take place at Presbyterian Cemetery. Memorial contributions can be made in her name. For online condolences and additional information please visit The Wenig Funeral Home of Oostburg (920-564-2771) is serving the Finstad/Harmeling family with arrangements. To send flowers to the family of Kristy Finstad, please visit Tribute Store.

December 25, 2019 [The Independent]: “Bring Kristy Back to Baja. In Memoriam By Dan Chua. The author’s wife, Kristy Finstad, was one of the 34 people who died on September 2, 2019, in the Conception boat fire off of Santa Cruz Island. A UCSB grad, Chua posted this on Facebook on December 19.

“Baja had always been a sacred place for me, even before I had met Kristy. I “discovered” Baja during my UCSB college days on a surf trip with a bunch of buddies. We were so naïve and clueless. But we had a blast, and that trip sparked a lifelong love of Mexico, and especially Baja. I’ve had some of my most memorable, wild, life-changing, and unforgettable experiences in Baja: swimming with orcas (intense), getting hassled (appropriately) by Federales, sailing through remote islands in the Sea of Cortez (divine), driving (stupidly) straight into the teeth of a hurricane, surfing big waves, spearing huge yellowtail, and getting engaged to Kristy while lounging in a tide pool at our favorite spot.

I’m not sure what I wanted in Baja; I just needed to get away. It was partly to retrace some places that we loved and I hadn’t been to in a long time. It was to bring some of Kristy back. It was to get back to the ocean, feel its healing salt solution, and live again by its moods, the tides, and weather. It was to disengage from reality, to check out for a while, run away, ease my pain and stress. And it was to surf. Surfing is a selfish indulgence. Chasing waves doesn’t help society; no one but the individual benefits from riding a wave. Most of the time, especially in Santa Cruz, where we lived for many years, you have to, selfishly, outfox the next person to get a wave. But there’s something about catching a wave that radiates energy through your body. And Kristy always liked me better when I’d been surfing. Something about my attitude changed. I was more positive, healthier, and happier. And that usually translated into being a better person. Maybe it does help society? My first full day in Baja, the waves were small but fun. I paddled out at sunset and got some fun knee-high longboard peelers. As the sun was setting, the moon was rising, and it seemed like the perfect time. I zipped back to the truck and grabbed the vessel with Kristy’s ashes. There was one other guy out; he must have thought I was odd as I paddled way outside. I released her ashes into the Pacific, the ocean we had spent so much time on together, at one of our favorite spots, as the moon rose and the sun fell. I cried my eyes out, but it felt good to bring part of her here. Never saw that other surfer again.

Along the way, I got to visit a few special friends down in Baja. People whose connections to Kristy ran deep. We had thoughtful, intense talks, spent enjoyable time together, and drank tequila with tears in our eyes. Initially, I was scared, the bringer of a bad reality. It’s an odd situation to be in: I want to visit friends, but it used to be Kristy and I both, and then I show up alone. It makes it “real” for people who haven’t been in the near vicinity of this tragedy. But ultimately, my fears unfounded, each friend helped heal my wounds just a bit. I’m usually a private person, one who doesn’t bare their soul on social media. But I’ve been amazed by the strength of Christina Quitasol, the sister and daughter of four victims of the fire. She’s been a rock for the victim’s families, incredibly helpful with information and support for all of us. And an inspiration and good listener for me. So here I am, a recovering wreck, on a hard road, taking one step at time, baring my soul, and thankful for Baja, friends, family, and the ocean. Catch a wave.”