OXNARD: More than 30 people disappeared and it is feared that they died on Monday after a dive boat caught fire and sank off the coast of California, with dozens of passengers trapped beneath the deck by roaring fire.
But the fire and intense heat prevented them from breaking the ship’s hull to search for survivors before the ship sank, the Coast Guard said. A dense fog further complicates rescue efforts.
Five members of the Conception crew were awake and jumped into the water when the flames exploded around 3:15 a.m. (1015 GMT), Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters at a televised conference. Another 34 people are missing.
The five were rescued by people in a pleasure boat called Grape Escape, Rochester said.
The crew, some only in underwear and two with leg wounds, had retrieved a boat and rowed 200 yards to the Hansens boat.
Shirley Hansen said the men were distressed, one had a girlfriend under the deck at the Concepcion, and two of the men paddled to find survivors, but found none.
Rochester of the Coast Guard said it was believed that all passengers were sleeping at that time. La Concepcion had a crowded cabin with bunk beds of three heights under the decks.
He said 34 people were not counted when Conception sank 20 yards (meters) off the north coast of the island, leaving only its exposed arch.
A search on the coast
Rochester said the Coast Guard was still in the “response phase”, which means that search and rescue efforts continued, but mainly through a search on the coast of potential survivors.
Glen Fritzler, who is an owner on the Truth Aquatics website, was a respected professional who only received the California Diving Service Award a few months ago, according to the Los Angeles Times.
When asked if there had been an explosion on board or a slow-developing fire, Rochester said “the only call we received on May 1,” which came from the boat, “was that the ship was engulfed in flames.”
In a confusing call reported by NBC, a man who sounds frantic says there are 39 people on board and added: “I can’t breathe.”
The fire went out several times, but it burst again, the Coast Guard said, apparently due to the amount of fuel on the ship. The boat could carry up to 1,600 gallons, according to the company’s website.