Passengers trapped as boat engulfed by fire

Former Truth Aquatics crewman James Miranda prays and drops flowers into the water at the moorings where the boat burnt and sank
Former Truth Aquatics crewman James Miranda prays and drops flowers into the water at the moorings where the boat burnt and sank
Image: MARK RALSTON/AFP

Divers searched for more bodies early on Tuesday around the wreck of a boat destroyed by a blaze off the coast of southern California, as authorities launched an investigation into one of the area’s worst maritime disasters.

Emergency crews found at least 25 bodies after the fire broke out before dawn on Monday, leaving nine people still missing, the Associated Press reported.

The coastguard declined to confirm the figures.

“We are looking for bodies now,” Santa Barbara fire Department spokesperson Amber Anderson said.

The dive boat burns off Santa Cruz Island, California
The dive boat burns off Santa Cruz Island, California
Image: MIKE ELIASON/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT/AFP

Flames ripped through the scuba diving vessel Conception, as it was moored off Santa Cruz Island, trapping the passengers below deck.

Five of the six-strong crew managed to escape in an inflatable boat, but no-one else has been found.

The boat sank later and was lying upside down under more than 18m of water, police said.

Witnesses reported hearing a number of explosions, but authorities said it was too early to say what caused the fire.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on Monday scuba or propane tanks on the Conception may have blown up in the flames.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board said it had sent a team of engineers and fire specialists to investigate the blaze.

There were a total of 33 passengers and six crew members onboard the Conception, a 22.9m boat, when the fire started at about 3.15am on Monday, officials said.

The surviving crew members sought refuge on a fishing boat moored nearby, banging on the side to wake up Bob Hansen and his wife, who were sleeping onboard.

“When we looked out, the other boat was totally engulfed in flames, from stem to stern,” Hansen told the New York Times. “There were these explosions every few beats.

“You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous.”

After borrowing clothes from the Hansens, some crew members headed back towards the Conception to look for survivors without luck.

Investigators said a single mayday call came from the boat reporting the fire.

“It happened quickly enough so many people could not get off,” US Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Matthew Kroll told CNN.- Reuters 

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