Wednesday 18 September 2019

Search goes on for the missing after 25 bodies recovered from dive boat blaze

Engulfed: The diving boat Conception blazes in the early hours of the morning. Photo: AP
Engulfed: The diving boat Conception blazes in the early hours of the morning. Photo: AP

Omar Younis

Divers yesterday resumed the search for bodies around the wreck of a diving boat destroyed by a blaze off southern California.

The pre-dawn fire on Monday left passengers on board the Conception trapped below deck.

At least 25 bodies were found by dive teams in the hours after the fire.

It is understood nine people are missing, but the coastguard declined to confirm the exact figures.

Five of the six-strong crew, who were on deck, managed to escape in an inflatable boat.

"We are looking for bodies now," said Santa Barbara Fire Department spokeswoman Amber Anderson.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the fire, one of Southern California's worst maritime disasters.

It broke out as the scuba diving vessel was moored off Santa Cruz Island.

The 75ft boat sank later in the morning and was yesterday lying upside down under more than 60 feet of water, police said.

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

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

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 on board.

"When we looked out, the other boat was totally engulfed in flames, from stem to stern," Mr 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 of the crew members headed back towards the Conception to look for survivors without any luck, Mr Hansen said.

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.

The boat was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a Santa Barbara firm.

It said on its website that the Conception was on a three-day trip to the Channel Islands, and was due back in Santa Barbara at 5pm on Monday.

The boat's owner, Truth Aquatics, referred queries about the accident to a joint media centre.

"This is still an ongoing search and rescue," it said.

Irish Independent

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