Eight dead, 26 missing after California dive boat catches fire


(SAN PEDRO, Calif.) — Officials say at least eight people are dead and 26 are missing, including one crewmember, after a commercial dive boat caught fire early Monday morning near Santa Cruz Island, The Washington Post reported.

Officials said five crewmembers aboard the 75-foot Conception were able to escape the fire into the waters near the shores of Santa Cruz Island, but authorities fear the rest of the people aboard the boat were killed. The Coast Guard and emergency workers from the counties of Ventura and Santa Barbara were assisting in search and rescue efforts.

Authorities so far have recovered four bodies — two men and two women — and four others have been located on the ocean floor near the wreck.

Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said that Conception had launched from Santa Barbara. He said the boat is registered to the company Truth Aquatics, which runs diving trips and also charters boats for private excursions. A person who picked up the phone at the company declined to comment before hanging up.

The five crewmembers who paddled away as the boat went up in flames banged on the hull of a nearby boat seeking help, and one crewmember recounted the story to a couple on board. It was not immediately clear why the crew had been unable to rescue the passengers on Conception.

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The following is text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(SAN PEDRO, Calif.) — Coast Guard and partner agencies continue their response to a vessel fire that led to the Conception sinking near Santa Cruz Island on Monday morning.

A family assistance number has been established at (833) 688-5551 or (800) 400-1572.

A 3,000-foot temporary flight restriction has been established around Conception. 

Thirty-nine people were reported aboard the vessel at the time of the incident. Five people were rescued from the water during the initial response to the incident. Several deceased victims have also been recovered from the scene. 

The Coast Guard is actively searching for additional people. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff – Coroner's Office will release information regarding victims as it becomes available. 

The vessel Conception sank around 7:20 a.m.

The cause of the incident is under investigation and names are being withheld pending next-of-kin notifications.

At approximately 3:30 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watch standers overheard a mayday call via Channel 16 of an engulfed 75-foot commercial diving vessel with 39 people aboard.

Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded. The fire department crews were fighting the fire when the vessel sank 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water.

Five people were evacuated aboard a good Samaritan pleasure craft.

Watch standers launched two Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot response boat-medium crews, a Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco Forward Operating Base Mugu Dolphin MH-65 helicopter crew, a Coast Guard Air Station San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and the Coast Guard cutter Narwhal. 

The vessel is reported to have a 1-foot portion of the bow sticking out of the water.

By Professional Mariner Staff