A horrific boat fire has claimed more than two dozen lives off the coast of California and there’s little hope for nine others missing. A total of 33 passengers and six crew were believed to be aboard the dive boat.
The U.S. Coast Guard has found 25 bodies after the commercial diving vessel caught fire before dawn on Monday near the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, and the search continues for the others, according to CBS Los Angeles.
“This isn’t a day we wanted to wake up to for Labor Day and it’s a very tragic event,” said Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester. “I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome.”
“We will search all the way through the night into the morning, but I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome,” the captain said Monday afternoon at a news conference.
#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
Those aboard the 75-foot vessel Conception were believed to be sleeping below deck when the fire broke out in the predawn hours. The boat’s crew was forced to jump off the vessel, which was fully engulfed in flames.
Part of the harrowing mayday call made from the boat is seen below from the Daily Mail:
Conception captain, Jerry Boylan, can be heard telling a Coast Guard dispatcher that all of his passengers are trapped below deck ‘with no escape hatch’.
“There’s 33 people on board the vessel on fire. They can’t get off,” the captain says.
The dispatcher responds: “Roger. Are they locked inside the boat? Roger. Can you get back on board and unlock the doors so they can get off? Roger. You don’t have any firefighter gear at all, no fire extinguishers or anything?”
Most of the captain’s responses are unintelligible, except for the words: “I can’t breathe.”
More of the desperate 911 call can be heard below:
Rochester noted that the crew was already awake and on the bridge when the fire broke out.
According to the Coast Guard, fire department crews were fighting the fire when the vessel sank 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water.
The Conception is owned by Truth Aquatics, a boat rental service based out of Santa Barbara, and has a maximum capacity of 46 people, according to CBS Los Angeles.
CBS2 employee Darla Fletcher, an experienced diver, has taken several diving trips with Truth Aquatics, the affiliate reported.
“Typically, the crew members will sleep up top, they’re not gonna sleep down there with the divers,” Fletcher said. “Especially on a full boat like this weekend, there were probably divers filling every possible bunk.”
“They’re a great company to dive with,” she said. “They take care of you. All their crew members are always looking out for you. They are just an amazing group of people.”
Kristy Finstad, 41, described as a free-spirited marine biologist, was among those on board, helping lead the diving expedition. She if feared dead, along with a 17-year-old girl celebrating her birthday, according to the Daily Mail.
Finstad and her husband, Dan Chua, helped organize the weekend diving expedition — Chua was leading a separate trip in Costa Rica.
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