California Boat Fire Claims Dozens Of Lives, Officials Fear

Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County FireTwitter

Officials fear that the death toll may be in the dozens after a fire broke out on a dive boat off the coast of California, The Associated Press reports.

Early Monday morning, the Conception, a charter boat that had taken passengers on a tour around the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California, radioed for help. At about 3:15 a.m., according to Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer Mark Barney, a mayday call came in from the vessel. The message was “garbled,” but apparently enough information was sent through that authorities were able to pinpoint the vessel’s location and send help.

Based on the available information, it appears that five crew members sleeping in the upper levels of the vessel were able to leap into the water. A nearby vessel, identified as The Grape Escape, picked up the crew members in the water. Two of them are believed to have suffered minor injuries, according to The Los Angeles Times.

However, at least 34 people were sleeping in the lower reaches of the boat, and they are all feared dead. In fact, Captain Brian McGrath of the Ventura County Fire Department said there have been “some deaths,” but wouldn’t provide further information.

Erik Raney, public information officer with the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office, said that the county Sheriff’s office is preparing for a “mass casualty event.”

“We’re gearing up resources to be able to handle the potential for a lot of fatalities off of this boat,” Raney said.

Authorities from multiple agencies and jurisdictions, including the Coast Guard and local police, are conducting search-and-rescue operations in the area.

“Right now they’re conducting shoreline searches for any available survivors,” said Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester.

At the scene, one woman told authorities that her son was on the boat; however, she was lead away from the scene by a Ventura County firefighter.

Conception was one of several pleasure craft that take divers and sightseers for weekend tours around the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California, where they can check out coral reefs and marine life. Such tours usually last several days, and indeed, Conception had been scheduled to return to port at 5:00 p.m. Monday.

The vessel and its owners, Truth Aquatics, were considered among the better operators of such weekend diving tours in the region. She was built in 1981, and she and other Truth Aquatics vessels had taken over 450,000 divers on diving excursions in the past few decades.

This is a developing story. More information about this accident will be provided as it becomes available.