Brother of woman believed to be on California dive boat shares sister's legacy

HOUSTON – A Houston man is remembering the legacy of his beloved sister, who is presumed to have lost her life in a tragic dive boat fire off the coast of California.

Brett Harmeling, 31, said his 41-year-old sister, Kristy Finstad, was a light in their lives who taught people how to love the earth.

His family said they are thankful for all the love and support and said her legacy lives on.

Adventurer, guide, yoga instructor

“She was an adventurer. She was a guide,” Harmeling said.

Harmeling always smiles when talking about his big sister.

“Kristy always had this vibrant light to her and just shared with the world her true passion for the Earth and the ocean and marine life specifically,” Harmeling said.

Finstad didn’t just study the earth. She experienced it. She is a lover of adventure, a marine biologist and a diving enthusiast.

“My sister led diving experiences and adventures all over the world for most of her entire life,” Harmeling said.

Finstad taught people, including her brother, to be good stewards of the earth. She was a dedicated professional who loved to share knowledge about the ocean with others. Her skills were unique, and she had a knack for sharing.

“Certain things in the ocean that you wouldn’t even look at, and she would teach you a lesson about why they’re so important for life and vitality,” Harmeling said.

Devastating fire

On Monday, a devastating fire engulfed a dive boat, called Conception, off the California coast.

“This is probably the worst-case scenario you could probably have,” said a representative from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office.

The Conception was in the open sea near Santa Cruz Island. Harmeling said his sister was leading a dive. Of 39 people, only four crew members and the captain survived. Thirty-four people were sleeping in the boat’s lower level with exits blocked by fire. Officials recovered 33 bodies, and one person is missing. However, authorities deemed 34 presumed dead.

“Currently just navigating through all the feelings and all the emotions that are coming up and really present to the gratitude that everyone is showing with me, my family and everyone involved. It’s really brought us close together,” Harmeling said.

Coming together to remember those lost

Crosses, candles, flowers, thoughts and prayers were some tokens of love left to remember those who were presumed dead.

“It really helps me process through this really difficult time. I’m really grateful, and I know that in any type of tragedy, they’re going through, whether it’s a hurricane -- I know that grief is not a linear thing, and it comes in waves, and it’s nice to know that people are there for you,” Harmeling said.

Harmeling said his sister’s legacy and story will live on. They shared a special bond: teaching yoga.

“We got to share that passion with the world together several times. It just brings a new meaning to the word yoga. Every time I step out on the mat now, I’ll be thinking of her and carrying her spirit forward with me and knowing that she’s got my back no matter where I’m at,” Harmeling said.

While officials are still searching for answers, Harmeling said whatever happens, he hopes that his sister's story, spirit and love for nature is shared for generations.

“Whatever the outcome is, we are going to be closer as a family. And Kristy’s spirit and energy will always be within us to go pursue life to the fullest,” Harmeling said.