An Indian-American couple from Connecticut was among the 34 people killed in a boat fire near Santa Cruz, off the coast of Ventura in California, Sept. 2. Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari of Stamford were aboard Conception, a 75-foot vessel, during a three-day Labor Day weekend scuba diving excursion.
News reports say 33 passengers and one crew member were sleeping below the deck when the vessel burst into flames, trapping them inside. News reports say that five crew members were able to escape. Thirty three bodies have been found, and divers are searching for the one body that’s missing.
Nirmal’s cousin Rajul Sharma told the Los Angeles Times that Nirmal and Deopujari were married in 2016. Deopujari, 31, was a dentist in Norwalk while her husband, Nirmal, 44, worked as a senior adviser at Ernst & Young.
The Hartford Courant, citing Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said that the Connecticut couple appear to have died from smoke inhalation, not burns. “The indicators are from the preliminary examination of the bodies that the victims died prior to being burned,” Brown told the paper. “The burn damage to the victims was post-mortem.”
Sharma told the LA Times that the two were made for each other. “He found a soulmate in Sanjeeri,” Sharma said of his cousin Nirmal. “Their love for each other was apparent even without them speaking about it.”
Sharma said he had known Nirmal since the day he was born. An avid animal lover, Nirmal was sensitive and polite, he said, never wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Neighbors at the couple’s Forest Street apartment in Stamford told the New York Post that the couple would walk their Chow Chow dog, Bebe, together. “They were very nice, kind,” Beatrice Curran told the Post. “So we’re in shock. Our hearts go out to them. It’s incredibly sad.”
According to a report in the Times of India, Nirmal grew up in Jaipur, and Deopujari was from Nagpur. She is the daughter of renowned Nagpur-based pediatrician Satish Deopujari.
Speaking to the Times of India a day after the fire, Kishore, Satish Deopujari’s brother said that the entire family is in a state of shock. He told the paper that the Deopujaris have another daughter in the U.S., and that the family was soon leaving for the U.S.