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‘You Couldn’t Ask for a Worse Situation,’ Only Five of 39 People Survive Boat Fire near Santa Cruz Island so Far

2:40 PM PDT on September 3, 2019

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] diving boat called Conception caught fire on Monday around 3:14 AM off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. The 75-foot commercial vessel with a 46 bunk capacity had 39 people aboard, including five crew members who were above deck when the ship caught fire. The five crew members were able to jump off and were saved by a family aboard a boat called the Grape Escape, and two of the crew members who were saved suffered minor injuries. 

The Ventura County Fire Department said it was on the scene within 15 minutes. According to Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown in a press conference Monday afternoon, of the total 39 people on board, there were 33 passengers and six crew members. Passengers included diving enthusiast from all around Southern California and beyond. 

Five of the six crew members were able to escape the Conception. Of the remaining 34 people on board, 25 bodies have been located, and nine remained missing.

#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

— VCFD PIO (@VCFD_PIO) September 2, 2019

Early Monday, authorities received a call for fire and rescue support, in which the caller said that they couldn’t breathe. Passengers below were in the berthing area, which was primarily used for sleeping. According to Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester, they were likely trapped by the fire itself, rather than any doors, and were unable to escape the boat.

At a press conference at 4 PM on Monday in Santa Barbara, Brown said the cause of the fire was still unknown, but that a fire on a boat was the worst-case scenario. “You couldn’t ask for a worse situation,” he said.

The Conception sank in approximately 62 feet of water, Rochester said. The boat was on a three-day diving excursion that was scheduled to finish late Monday. The vessel is checked annually by the Coast Guard and was in full compliance. The Coast Guard will launch a more thorough investigation.

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