25 bodies found, 9 people missing in California scuba vessel fire
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA : Divers have found a total of 25 bodies on Monday after a pre-dawn fire sank a scuba diving vessel off a Southern California island, leaving nine people unaccounted for as the search continued.
Representatives for the Coast Guard's division in Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office could not immediately be reached to confirm the report from the Associated Press, which cited the US Coast Guard.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff had earlier confirmed eight people had died after a fire broke out aboard the Conception, a 23m boat, at 3.15am (6.15pm Singapore time) on Monday while it was moored just off the shore of Santa Cruz Island.
The Conception had embarked for California's Channel Islands on Saturday morning with 39 people on board.
"This isn't a day that we wanted to wake up to for Labour Day, it is a very tragic event," Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told a news conference earlier on Monday, saying the search would continue throughout the night.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown earlier told reporters eight bodies had been found on the ocean floor and in the area of the sunken vessel, which lies upside down. The authorities are trying to determine the best way to recover the sunken vessel, including the possibility of towing it to shore.
Five crew members who were above deck on the bridge escaped to a fishing boat moored a few hundred feet away, banging on the side to wake up Mr Bob Hansen and his wife, who were sleeping onboard. The five men were soaking wet and shivering in their underwear.
"When we looked out, the other boat was totally engulfed in flames, from stem to stern," Mr Hansen said in an interview with the New York Times.
"There were these explosions every few beats. You can't prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous."
The diving boat was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a Santa Barbara excursion firm. It said on its website that the Conception was on a three-day excursion to the Channel Islands. The boat's owner, Truth Aquatics, referred queries about the accident to a joint media centre. "This is still an ongoing search and rescue," it said. - REUTERS