FOUR BODIES RECOVERED, 30 MISSING AFTER DIVE BOAT CATCHES FIRE IN CHANNEL ISLANDS

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Update September 4, 2019: More bodies have been recovered and a handful still missing are presumed dead.

By Chris Jennewein

Reprinted with permission from Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association

Photo:  The dive boat Conception on fire off Santa Cruz Island early Monday morning. Photo courtesy Santa Barbara County Fire Department 

September 3, 2019 (Santa Barbara) - Authorities reported 4 bodies recovered and 30 more passengers missing after a dive boat caught fire early Monday morning in the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara.

The four recovered victims were only identified as two adult males and two adult females, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters at a 4 p.m. news conference. Four other bodies were spotted on the ocean floor near the sunken vessel, but have not yet been recovered.

A mayday call was heard at 3:15 a.m. by Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach after flames engulfed the 75-foot Conception, a Santa Barbara-based commercial diving vessel.

Five crew members jumped off the burning ship and were evacuated aboard a pleasure craft named Great Escape, according to the Coast Guard. One crew member suffered minor injuries.

The boat sank 20 yards off of  Santa Cruz Island in 60 feet of water, with a portion of the bow sticking out of the water.

Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department and Ventura County Fire Department responded and fought the fire.

Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said divers were still engaged in a search-and-rescue operation. She said the crew was likely able to escape because they were awake and above deck when then fire broke out.

The boat was built in 1981 in Long Beach. It has a maximum capacity of 46 passengers, with 13 double bunks and 20 single bunks.

Brown said the Conception left Santa Barbara on Saturday morning and was scheduled to return on Tuesday morning. There were 34 passengers and five crew members on board.

Worried loved ones were coming to the Coast Guard Station in the Channel Islands searching for information. The Coast Guard said family members looking for information about their loved ones should call 833-688-5551 or 800- 400-1572. A family assistance center was being set up at Earl Warren Fair Grounds, 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for an investigation into the deaths.

“It’s inconceivable that with all the safety regulations we have in place today, a fire on a boat can lead to the loss of life we saw this morning near Santa Cruz Island,” she said Monday afternoon.

“We need an immediate and robust interagency investigation. The Coast Guard, along with officials from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, are already hard at work. Once personnel from the NTSB and FBI join the effort tomorrow, we must learn as much as possible about how this happened and how future tragedies can be prevented.”