As many as 34 people are feared dead, according to the Coast Guard, after a dive boat caught fire before dawn Monday off the Southern California coast.
Five crew members who jumped off the boat were rescued, and Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll told The Associated Press the Coast Guard was searching for others who may have been able to escape the same way.
He added, however, that 34 were feared dead. Two of the crew suffered minor injuries, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney.
Capt. Brian McGrath of the Ventura County Fire Department confirmed some deaths to The Associated Press but said he could not give an exact number.
“Right now they’re conducting shoreline searches for any available survivors,” Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told reporters at a brief news conference at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.
“The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge and they jumped off,” she said, adding they were rescued by a good Samaritan vessel called The Grape Escape.
Asked if the crew tried to help others aboard, Rochester said, “I don’t have any additional information.”
A woman who came to the harbor said, “My son was on that boat.” She was led away by a Ventura County firefighter.
Rochester said the 75-foot commercial scuba diving vessel was about 20 yards off the coast of Santa Cruz Island when the fire ignited at around 3 a.m.
The dive boat Conception was on the final day of a Labor Day weekend cruise to the Channel Islands when the fire erupted.
“At 3:15 this morning the Coast Guard overheard a mayday call. The call was garbled, it was not that clear, but we were able to get some information out of it to send vessels on scene,” Barney said.
The Conception was operated by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a respected Santa Barbara-based company that says on its website it has been taking divers on such expeditions since 1972.
The Conception had departed at 4 a.m. Saturday with plans to return at 5 p.m. Monday.
It was outfitted with dozens of small berths for people to sleep in overnight.
The trip promised multiple opportunities to see colorful coral and a variety of marine life.