Coast Guard, LASD Help Continuing Rescue Effort Off Channel Islands

SAN PEDRO (CNS) - Efforts continued throughout the night to find as many as 26 people feared dead from a 75-foot commercial diving boat that caught fire and sank near Santa Cruz Island.

Eight people are confirmed dead and “additional victims have been received,” said Santa Barbara City Public Information Officer Amber Anderson. There were news reports that 25 victims had been found but the Santa Barbara County coroner's office must make a confirmation before the official number can change, she said.

The death toll could be updated during a 10 a.m. news conference at the Santa Barbara Sheriff's headquarters, Anderson said.

The four recovered victims were only identified as two adult males and two adult females, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.

Four other bodies were spotted on the ocean floor near the vessel, but had not been recovered.

Five crew members jumped off the burning ship and were evacuated aboard a good Samaritan pleasure craft named Grape Escape, according to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester.

One crew member suffered non life-threatening injuries, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard launched several assets from its Los Angeles-Long Beach base where the first mayday call was heard at 3:15 a.m. Monday, officials said.

Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department and Ventura County Fire Department responded and were fighting the fire when at about 7:20 a.m., the vessel sank 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water. Divers with the Los Angels County Sheriff's Department assisted in the search.

Rochester said the crew probably was able to escape because they were awake and above deck when the fire broke out.

The ship was named Conception.

Built in 1981 in Long Beach, it was docked in Santa Barbara. According to the website California Diving News, it had a maximum capacity of 46 people, with 13 double bunks and 20 single bunks.

Brown said the Conception took off Saturday morning and was scheduled to return on Tuesday morning.

A shrine of candles and flowers appeared on the Santa Barbara dock where the Conception was scheduled to dock, according to news reports.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department offered its support Monday morning, tweeting: “ LASD is at the ready to assist in helping find the 34 unaccounted-for people in this devastating boat fire. We hope for the best and brace for the worst. We share in your sorrow.”

Moments later, the department tweeted: “ Confirmed SEB LASD Air Rescue 5 & Emergency Services Detail Divers SEBLASD are responding to assist USCGLosAngeles CountyVentura in the rescue efforts of the 34 unnaccounted-for people in devastating boat fire.”

The Coast Guard established a 3,000-foot temporary flight restriction around the Conception for the safety of first responders.

Worried loved ones were coming to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Channel Islands searching for information. The Coast Guard said family members looking for information about their loved ones should call 833-688-5551 or 800- 400-1572. A Family Assistance Center was being set up at Earl Warren Fair Grounds, 3400 Calle Real, Santa Barbara.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday called for an investigation into the deaths.

“1t's inconceivable that with all the safety regulations we have in place today, a fire on a boat can lead to the loss of life we saw this morning near Santa Cruz Island,” she said.

“We need an immediate and robust interagency investigation. The Coast Guard, along with officials from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, are already hard at work. Once personnel from the NTSB and FBI join the effort tomorrow, we must learn as much as possible about how this happened and how future tragedies can be prevented.”

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