At least eight people are dead after a 75-foot-long diving boat caught fire near Santa Cruz Island in southern California in the U.S. on Monday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a media briefing.
Among the eight, the bodies of two males and two females were recovered on Monday while the remaining four were discovered on the ocean floor near the vessel.
Their identies have yet to be confirmed.
The sheriff said that five people have been rescued so far and multiple rescue efforts involving boats, dive teams and aircraft are still searching for another 26 who are still missing.
According to authority, the diving boat named “Conception” was on a three-day diving excursion around Santa Cruz Island, just west of Santa Barbara in southern California, which was due to end on Tuesday morning.
The five rescued were crew memebers, who were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 a.m. local time (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester said, putting the total number of people aboard the boat at 39.
But the passengers were trapped below deck by the roaring blaze and were believed to have been sleeping when the fire erupted.
The Coast Guard said the blaze and heat have prevented rescuers from breaching the vessel’s hull to search for survivors before the craft sank, and a dense fog further complicated rescue efforts.
The vessel had a crowded cabin with three-high bunks below decks and sank 20 meters off the island’s northern shore, leaving only its bow exposed.
(With input from AFP)
(Cover image: Ventura County Fire Department personnel respond to a boat fire on a 75-foot (23-meter) vessel off Santa Cruz Island, California, U.S., September 2, 2019./ Ventura County Fire Department)