Conception dive boat fire off Southern California’s Santa Cruz Island leads to 4 dead & 29 missing as all five crew members survive overnight blaze. How did blaze start & was safety protocol followed?
A Labor Day long weekend escape has gone horribly wrong after a boating vessel caught on fire overnight off the coast of Southern California. The incident has led to the discovery of four bodies on the 75 dive boat with 29 others missing, feared dead, according to a US Coast Guard spokesperson.
Lt Cmdr Matthew Kroll told AP the bodies recovered on Monday morning had injuries consistent with drowning.
### Update: Come Monday night. the Coast Guard reported a total of 25 bodies having been located. Authorities told of recovering 20 of the bodies on the ocean floor and discovered five more inside the Conception. A total of four bodies remained un-accounted for.
### Original story: Rescue crews were still searching for 29 people who were sleeping below deck on the vessel Conception when it burst into flames in the middle of the night while anchored 20 yards off of Platts Harbor on the north side of Santa Cruz Island.
Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach received a mayday call just on 3.14am local time Monday.
The captain of Monday’s doomed Santa Cruz boat describes in a distress call (listen below) how all of his passengers are trapped below deck — ‘with no escape hatch.’
Audio of the recording includes a Coast Guard operator frantically asking for information on the emergency off the coast of southern California.
‘What is the emergency? Over. … Conception, what is the emergency? Over!’ the operator says, referring to the diving tour boat.
A man who identifies himself as the captain responds, ‘On board a vessel on fire.’
‘Your vessel is on fire? Roger. Are you aboard the Conception?’ the Coast Guard worker asks.
The captain confirms he is from the craft and says, ‘There’s 33 people on board the vessel on fire. They can’t get off.’
He confirms that all the crew jumped off and the vessel fully engulfed in flames.
— John Zuchelli (@tvzuke) September 2, 2019
4 dead 29 missing from the tour Dive boat “Conception” fire off Cali coast Santa Cruz – Conception was on a 3 day tour out of Santa Barbara, Cali the completely gutted boat later sank pic.twitter.com/BdYQeIyCPC
— Lets Play Ball Savages (@iLetsPlayBall) September 2, 2019
Conception deemed to be in full compliance with safety protocol:
Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded to the scene, along with multiple personal watercraft in the area.
Five Conception crew members who were awake and on deck when the fire broke out jumped into the water and were rescued by a Good Samaritan boat called the Grape Escape, Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester, Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach, said at a 9am, Monday morning press conference.
Four of the crew members were taken to the hospital and two had sustained leg injuries.
The captain remained at the scene working with rescue crews as search efforts headquartered at Coast Guard Station Channel Islands in Oxnard were ongoing.
Rochester said the Conception sank in 64 feet of water as crews worked to extinguish the flames. The bow of the boat is still above water.
‘We’re still holding hope that someone may have swam to shore,’ Santa Barbara County Fire Department PIO Mark Eliason told CNN.
‘When they anchor overnight they’re pretty close to shore. We have to hope, but we plan for worst case scenario.’
Officials said that DNA tests would need to be conducted to identify the dead due to the ‘conditions of the bodies.’
A Coast Guard official said the boat was in ‘full compliance’ with safety regulations.
— News Source LA (@NewsSourceLA) September 2, 2019
Truth Aquatics Santa Barbara operator well regarded:
The boat was operated by tour company Truth Aquatics, whose owners are working with investigators and have declined to comment on the tragedy.
At the time of the fire, the Santa Barbara Harbor vessel was on a three-day trip to the pinnacles of San Miguel Island, according to the Truth Aquatics website.
Passengers boarded the boat on Friday night and it took off from Santa Barbara Harbor on Saturday morning. It was expected to return Monday evening.
Responding to the blaze, seasoned scuba diver, Dave Reid – who has frequently gone on expeditions on Conception – said the vessel and others in its operator’s fleet as being among the safest and best maintained he’s seen.
The diver who is familiar with the boat’s configuration, said all divers sleep on the lowest level.
Reid said divers are not locked into that level but if a fire erupted above them it would be difficult for anyone to escape through a narrow stairway.
In the aftermath of the blaze, Ventura County PIO spokesman Bill Nash said the death toll remained unclear while saying it was believed that there would be ‘numerous’ fatalities.
‘It’s a large boat, and we know we have numerous fatalities. I don’t have an exact number,’ Nash told CNN.
He said the fire was about 20 miles off the coast of Channel Islands National Park. Santa Cruz Island is about 18 miles from the mainland and about 60 miles west of Los Angeles.
‘We are not sure where it falls jurisdictionally; it’s Coast Guard, Santa Barbara or Ventura,’ he said.
‘Where that plays in, after we figure out what we’ve got, it’s where to transport the bodies.’
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team, led by board member Jennifer Homendy, to investigate the accident.
Rescuers were unable to board the boat to check for survivors before it sank because it kept reigniting, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard said there were 39 people onboard the boat at the time it caught fire. Thirty-four passengers reportedly got trapped below deck by the blaze.
Authorities obtained a manifest of who was on the boat but have not released any identifications.
The boat that caught fire is based out of #SantaBarbara. #TruthAquatics owns the boat. I’m told by divers it’s a very reputable company. Some people have showed up asking about the passengers on board. More @ABC7 at 3&5. pic.twitter.com/9hZqteRe3L
— Sid Garcia (@abc7sid) September 2, 2019
Labor Day 3 day get-away $665 per person:
The Conception according to the Truth Aquatics website has sleeping space for 46 passengers. The Labor Day weekend trip was described as ‘designed by divers for divers’ and came with a price tag of $665 per person.
Coast Guard Captain Rochester said the boat appears to have been in full compliance and that it was authorized to be anchored at the scene of the fire in Platts Harbor.
Authorities have yet to say what caused the blaze and whether safety protocol was breached. It remained unclear why no escape hatch existed below deck.
Family members seeking information over missing relatives have been told to call (833) 688-5551.