Yesterday, a dive boat caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, west of Los Angeles. The boat was known as The Conception and was operated by Truth Aquatics, a Santa Barbara-based diving tour company. The vessel was carrying 39 people when the blaze broke out during the early hours of Labor Day. Now, the search is underway for the remains of victims. Rescue divers have recovered the remains of 25 people. At least nine people are still missing.
What Happened on Monday Morning?
The 75-foot ship caught fire at about 3:30 a.m. for reasons which are still unknown. It was carrying 33 passengers and 6 crew members. It was on a three-day diving excursion to San Miguel Island, according to a schedule posted on Truth Aquatic’s website.
Thirty-four people were sleeping below deck when the fire broke out. Five crew members, who were awake on deck when the blaze started, were rescued by a nearby recreational vessel, The Grape Escape. Bob Hansen, the owner of the recreational vessel, said that one of the crewmen appeared to have a broken leg and that all five crewmembers were distraught.
“They felt so helpless. They said that with everything — so much on fire so much that they just couldn't get to them,” Hansen said.
As crews responded to the fire, The Conception eventually sank into 64 feet of water. Rescue divers are currently attempting to search for the remains of victims.
So far, officials believe they’ve recovered the remains of 25 people. However, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll stated that this number could change as the coroner examines the remains. According to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester, the ship was compliant with federal regulations during its most recent inspection.
Passengers Had No Way to Escape
A transcript of a distress call from The Conception is chilling. In it, the boat’s captain states that all passengers are trapped below deck “with no escape hatch.” A Coast Guard operator continues to ask the captain to state his emergency before determining that it was a fire. The captain can then be heard saying “There’s 33 people on board the vessel on fire. They can’t get off.”
The Coast Guard operator then 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?”
The captain’s answer is unclear. Then, the Coast Guard operator continues to ask for more information but receives increasing amounts of static until all responses from Conception ceased. The Coast Guard member then sent out a distress call asking all nearby boats to lend assistance.
According to Truth Aquatics, the owner of the company designed and built each of their boats. The operator asserts that it pioneered liveaboard dive boats and calls one of its boats "California's crown jewel of dive boats."
Audio of a man screaming was also posted online. In it, someone can be heard screaming “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and “I can’t breathe!” The captain of Conception was among the five rescued crew members.