At least eight people have been confirmed dead in the search for 34 people who went missing Monday after a scuba-diving boat caught fire near the Ventura County coastline in California.
Four bodies were discovered on the boat with four more found nearby on the ocean floor Monday afternoon, Reuters reported, citing Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
Thirty-nine people total were aboard the diving boat when it caught fire and sank 20 yards underwater. The cause of the fire remains unknown. Five crew members were rescued by a civilian boat, the Coast Guard said in a press release.
Santa Barbara County police say four bodies have been found near the wreckage of the boat that caught fire off the coast of Southern California https://t.co/aRe1zKZcpP https://t.co/H9n7JKbYS7 pic.twitter.com/bXUB0n1fiK
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 2, 2019
A man who identified himself as the captain of the Conception made an SOS call while aboard the engulfed boat, saying, “Mayday, mayday, mayday! … Conception … north side of Santa Cruz,” according to an official transcript.
He can later be heard saying, “I can’t breathe. … There’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board.” (RELATED: Coast Guard Seizes 26,000 Pounds Of Cocaine In The Pacific Ocean)
The five crew members who escaped the fire left while passengers were still asleep below deck, KCBX reported.
UPDATE: This photo shows the burned out “Conception just before it sank off the Santa Cruz Island coast. Latest here: https://t.co/k37XtD6Lga (Courtesy: @VCFD_PIO) pic.twitter.com/LEaSkLHYBv
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) September 2, 2019
The five crew members were reportedly “already awake and on the bridge, and they jumped off” when the boat set fire, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters, according to KCBX.
Santa Barbara County Fire spokesperson Mike Eliason told reporters, “The crew quarters are above [deck] and the passengers are below. … We have investigators there that are assisting the [Santa Barbara County] Sheriff’s Department,” adding that it still too early to know the cause of the fire.
“They are going to interview the crew members and try to determine what happened,” he continued, adding that Santa Barbara County Fire, Coroner’s Bureau and Coast Guard “will begin the grim task of going underwater and making the recovery of those still on board” when the boat sank.
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