The dive boat Conception has burned down to the waterline and sank just 20 yards off the shores of Santa Cruz Island, California, and 25 bodies have been found on the ocean floor, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials.
Nine people are still missing. Five crew members had escaped earlier, according to Sherriff Bill Brown.
According to Brown, the boat was on the last leg of a three-day diving trip when the fire occurred at around 4 am local time. Five crew members survived after jumping overboard, with two of the five reportedly suffering from leg injuries. The cause of the blaze is so far unknown.
Brown said Monday the coroner’s office had identified the four recovered bodies as being those of two adult males and two adult females, although formal identification would need to be done via DNA testing.
Dive teams are working to recover the bodies seen on the ocean floor.
According to U.S. Coast Guard officials, the missing people were sleeping below decks when the fire occurred.
Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester, Captain of the Port for Coast Guard Sector Long Beach, said during the briefing that a one-mile/1.61-kilometer safety zone around the area where the vessel sank had been set up to protect the search and rescue divers.
While Sherriff Brown said the search and rescue effort would continue through the morning of Tuesday, September 3rd, the Coast Guard’s Rochester said the chances of finding anyone else alive were slim, adding:
“I think we all should be prepared to move into the worst outcome.”
The Concepcion is currently resting inverted on the seafloor about 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface.
The fire is likely to be one of the deadliest recreational maritime disasters in recent memory. Officials did not yet say what sparked the blaze or what made it so deadly.
Re-floating and bringing the vessel back to shore has not yet been decided, officials said.
Additional reporting by Stephan Whelan & John Liang