Coast Guard officials said that on late Monday the bodies of at least fifteen people have been recovered after a 75-foot commercial diving boat erupted in flames near the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island, Calif.
Many aboard the vessel named Conception were deemed to be sleeping below deck when the fire broke out in the early hours of dawn. Authorities resumed their search on Monday for potential survivors as the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s coroner office geared up for a mass casualty incident.
Five crew members were already awake when the fire erupted and they managed to jump off the boat, which was 20 yards off the shore of the north side of Santa Cruz Island near the Ventura County coast, Rochester reported. One crew member remains unaccounted for.
Around 3:15 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call of the boat on fire, according to the agency.
In the garbled emergency call, a man says there are 39 people aboard.
“I can’t breathe,” the man frantically says.
The five crew members, two with leg injuries, were saved by a good Samaritan boat named ‘The Grape Escape’, according to the sources.
The crew had managed to escape the burning boat by jumping into the ocean, retrieving a dinghy and paddling 200 yards to the Hansens’ boat, The Grape Escape, as said by Shirley Hansen in an interview.
The crew was troubled, some wearing only underwear, she said. One man told the Hansens that his better half was still beneath deck on the Conception. Another man regretted, depicting how they had cheered three travelers’ birthday celebrations hours sooner, including that of a 17-year-old young lady who was on a jumping trip with her folks.