LOS ANGELES (CBS SF/AP) — A fire raged through a boat carrying recreational scuba divers anchored near an island off the Southern California coast early Monday, leaving 25 people dead and nine still missing after the gutted vessel sank.
The five-member crew all escaped by jumping off the boat. Rescuers descended on the scene but after hours of searching the water and shore none of the 34 passengers had been found alive. Four bodies were recovered within hours and all had injuries consistent with drowning, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll. Four more bodies were found on the ocean floor, but had not yet been recovered as of 4:15 p.m.
Searchers continued to look for more than two dozen other people who were aboard the vessel Conception, which burned while anchored off Santa Cruz Island. Five people were rescued by Good Samaritans on other boats.
"Right now they're conducting shoreline searches for any available survivors," Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told reporters at a brief news conference at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.
The Coast Guard said crews were fighting the fire when the vessel sank 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water.
Coast Guard, local agencies continue responding to boat fire near Santa Cruz Island. 5 people rescued by good Samaritan crew. https://t.co/M541Ml0E8Q
— USCG Los Angeles (@USCGLosAngeles) September 2, 2019
He added, however, that 33 were feared dead. Two of the crew suffered minor injuries, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney.
#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
The fire broke out before dawn aboard the dive boat Conception on the final day of a Labor Day weekend cruise to the Channel Islands.
"At 3:15 this morning the Coast Guard overheard a mayday call. The call was garbled, it was not that clear, but we were able to get some information out of it to send vessels on scene," Barney said.
The Conception was operated by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a respected Santa Barbara-based company that says on its website it has been taking divers on such expeditions since 1972.
The Coast Guard said five crewmembers sleeping on the top deck of the 75-foot (20-meter) commercial scuba diving vessel were rescued by a good Samaritan pleasure craft called the Great Escape.
The 33 others, who were sleeping below deck, have not been accounted for, Kroll said.
The Conception had departed at 4 a.m. Saturday with plans to return at 5 p.m. Monday.
It was outfitted with dozens of small berths for people to sleep in overnight.
The trip promised multiple opportunities to see colorful coral and a variety of marine life.
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