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Boise man who spent time on doomed California boat: 'It could've just as easy been me'

Charlie Stirling took many excursions on the Conception over the last two decades. He says his "heart sunk" when he heard the boat caught fire, killing dozens.

BOISE, Idaho — On the last day of Labor Day weekend, tragedy struck the Southern California diving community when a charter boat -  the Conception - burst into flames off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. 

33 people were found dead and one is still considered missing.

The tragedy happened hundreds of miles away, but Charlie Stirling felt the sting here in Boise.

"A lot of people were actually quite concerned about me because they thought maybe I'd be on that charter," he said.

Stirling owns the Boise Scuba Center, and he's been diving from the Conception for 20 years.

"I have chartered them 20 times from 1995 to 2015," he said. "I've been on a couple other boats but that's the main one I use.

"I've slept down in the bunk rooms of that boat before, and I know Jerry, the captain," Stirling added. "It could've just as easy been me."

RELATED: 33 bodies from California boat fire recovered, 1 missing

He is shocked that so many people died, and has an idea of what might've caused the inferno aboard the boat.

"It'd be speculation on my part for sure, but the amount of destruction on that boat - how hot it was... it had to be something like fuel in my mind to burn that fast and that quickly," he said. 

When he got the news about Monday's deadly fire, he says his "heart sunk."

Stirling offered his deepest sympathies for the victims and their families.

"I just hope that nobody suffered needlessly and I just grieve for their loss," he added.

Despite the tragic events, Stirling will continue going out to sea.

RELATED: Family, teenagers among 34 presumed dead in California boat fire