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Coast Guard suspends search efforts for California boat fire victims

Search for survivors after Dorian

The search for victims of a deadly fire on a commercial diving vessel near the Southern California coast has been suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday. The fire that engulfed the Conception killed all 33 passengers and a crew member who was below deck, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. Investigators haven't determined how the fire erupted.

Rescuers have recovered 20 bodies as crews worked to find 14 others, the sheriff said. Eleven female and nine male remains have been recovered so far. Investigators have received more than 100 calls from family and friends who believe their loved ones were aboard the vessel.

Divers have seen between four and six others in the sunken wreckage, the sheriff said. Authorities are trying to stabilize the boat that sank in about 60 feet of water so divers can recover those remains.

A diving vessel burns off the coast of Southern California on September 2, 2019.
A diving vessel burns off the coast of Southern California on Sept. 2, 2019. Santa Barbara County Fire Department

The 75-foot Conception was on a three-day excursion to the chain of rugged, wind-swept isles that form Channel Islands National Park in the Pacific Ocean. The fire broke out around 3 a.m. in Platt's Harbor off Santa Cruz Island. Flames blocked an escape hatch and a stairwell leading to the sleeping area crowded with passengers on a recreational scuba diving trip.

Five of six crew members on the Conception escaped as the fire raged by jumping into an inflatable boat they steered to a nearby vessel. The crew members who escaped took refuge on a boat called The Grape Escape, anchored nearby. Two suffered minor injuries.

"It's upside down in relatively shallow water with receding tides that are moving it around," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.

Boat Fire California
Divers prepare to search for victims on Sept. 3, 2019, in Santa Barbara. AP

The Conception, based in Santa Barbara Harbor on the mainland, was owned by Truth Aquatics, a Santa Barbara-based company founded in 1974. The Conception was on the final day of a Labor Day weekend cruise when the fire erupted and a mayday call was made.

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