Eight people have been confirmed dead and 26 missing after a boat carrying recreational scuba divers off the coast of California caught fire.
The Associated Press reported eight people have been confirmed dead, after a fire ravaged the 75-foot Conception dive boat, which was carrying 39 people on a three-day scuba diving trip to the Channel Islands, California.
Four people had been recovered from the boat on Monday (local time) and a further four others were discovered on the ocean floor near the wreck on Tuesday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said, adding it was uncertain when those remains will be recovered.
#CoastInc: @VCFD responded to boat fire off the north side of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 3:28am. @USCG helping support rescue operations for people aboard a dive boat. #ChannelIslands @USCGLosAngeles @CountyVentura @SBCOUNTYFIRE pic.twitter.com/DwoPGfBjtA
— VCFD PIO (@VCFD_PIO) September 2, 2019
Coast Guard captain Monica Rochester told AP the search for more than two dozen other missing persons will go on into Tuesday morning (local time) but that people should be prepared for “the worst outcome.”
“We will search all the way through the night into the morning, but I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome,” she told a news conference.
Lieutenant commander Matthew Kroll told AP the bodies recovered Monday morning had injuries consistent with drowning.
Five crew members who were on the Conception’s top deck managed to escape and were rescued by a passing “good Samaritan pleasure craft”, after flames erupted on the boat, which later sank anchored just off Santa Cruz Island.
Fire on board the Conception, which AP and CNN report was operated by Truth Aquatics, broke out around 3:00am (local time) Monday and quickly engulfed the boat.
A scuba diver who has frequently gone on expeditions on the Conception told AP the vessel and others in its operator’s fleet are among the safest and best maintained he’s seen.
No cause for the fire has been identified and Sheriff Brown said at this stage there’s no reason to believe it involved a criminal act.
A portion of the mayday call from the Conception has been released, as reported by CNN. A person can be heard on the recording saying, “I can’t breathe.”
A Coast Guard dispatcher from Los Angeles also asked the person the following questions, as reported by CNN:
“Can you get back on board and unlock the boat?”
“There’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board?”
“You don’t have any firefighter gear at all? No fire extinguishers or anything?”
California authorities will spend the night continuing to search for survivors, but plan to “make the unfortunate transition to recovery” in the morning.
“It’s going to be maintained a search and rescue effort until dawn tomorrow,” Mike Eliason, a public information officer with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said, as reported by CNN.
Featured image: Twitter/@VCFD_PIO