Twenty-five bodies have been found after a diving boat was destroyed by fire off the coast of California, reports Express.co.uk.
The commercial scuba diving boat, named the Conception, had been anchored near Santa Cruz Island, about 90 miles (145km) off the coast of Santa Barbara, when the fire broke out just after 3am local time on Monday.
The boat sank 20 yards offshore while crews continued to fight the blaze. It is believed that 34 passengers were sleeping below deck.
One of the five rescued crew members was spotted being wheeled on a stretcher towards an ambulance.
All bodies recovered?
The bodies of 25 people have been found after a dive boat near Santa Cruz Island in California caught fire, as rescuers search for a further nine missing people.
After the US Coastguard deployed multiple crews to tackle the blaze, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Kroll said authorities had recovered 20 bodies.
A further five more were found but cannot be recovered due to unsafe conditions under the boat.
At present, it is not clear when the five bodies trapped under the boat will be recovered.
Unable to extinguish the fire
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said: “It’s upside down in relatively shallow water with receding tides that are moving it around.”
Emergency services had been unable to extinguish the fire, as the boat kept re-igniting.
Coast Guard senior chief Aaron Bemis told, “It keeps being extinguished and re-flashing, possibly due to the amount of fuel on board. Unsure why, but it’s consistently being put out and re-flashing.”
Escaped in an inflatable boat
Four crew members and the captain were able to escape by jumping into an inflatable boat they steered to a The Grape Escape, a nearby pleasure fishing boat.
Mr Bemis said: “The report we got was they were trapped by the fire. The fire was so intense that even after it was put out, we’re not able to actually embark the vessel and, you know, look for survivors at this point. It’s still ongoing.”
Mike Eliason, of Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said of the missing people: “They are unaccounted for, but it’s very foggy out there.”
He added: “We’re still holding hope that someone may have swam to shore. When they anchor overnight they’re pretty close to shore. We have to hope, but we plan for worst case scenario.”
More than 30 in distress
He said the boat that caught fire is a popular overnight dive and fishing boat.
The Coastguard said on Twitter: “The Coast Guard has launched multiple rescue assets along with assets from local agencies to assist more than 30 people in distress on a 75ft boat near Santa Cruz Island.
“The vessel was reported as being on fire. A group of crew members have been rescued (one with minor injuries) and efforts continue to evacuate the remaining passengers.”
Owner says “we could do nothing”
The owners of the boat, Bob and Shirely Hansen, were woken up by pounding on the side of the boat at around 3.30am local time.
According to the New York Times, Mr Hansen said: “I could see the fire coming through holes on the side of the boat.”
“There were these explosions every few beats. You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous.”
“The fire was too big, there was absolutely nothing we could do.”
Fire broke on the final day of expedition
The Conception was on the final day of a three-day Labour Day weekend dive expedition to the Channel Islands National Park, located in the Pacific Ocean, when the fire broke out.
It has been reported that the boat belongs to Truth Aquatics, a boat rental service based in Santa Barbara.
Investigation and rescue
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending a team to California to investigate the cause of the fire.
The crew put in a mayday call and a boat from a vessel assistance company sped from Ventura Harbour, about 30 miles away.
Captain Paul Amaral, from TowBoatUS, said: “We launched that boat knowing that the vessel was on fire, lots of people aboard.”
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