26 Missing After Dive Boat Catches Fire, 8 Bodies Found

The dive charter boat the "Conception" burns at anchor off Santa Cruz Island on September 2, 2019. | Credit: Mike Eliason/S.B.CountyFire

[Update: Sept. 2, 2019, 5:06 p.m.]  Santa Barbara’s Sheriff Bill Brown announced Monday afternoon that four bodies had been recovered from the boat named the Conception, which caught fire off the north shore of Santa Cruz Island early this morning. The victims were taken to the Coroner’s morgue, unidentified to the public until their families could be notified. Four bodies were also identified near the remains of the boat, which has apparently overturned in the tides today.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Brown said the Conception had left Santa Barbara Harbor early Saturday morning and was set to return Monday evening. It has been widely reported in the media and among the dive community that the charter was a Labor Day weekend dive at multiple of the Channel Islands.

The Coast Guard has corrected the number onboard as 39, not 38. Six crew members were onboard, not five, and one is missing; five were rescued by a nearby boat. According to KEYT reporting, the boat was the Grape Escape.

The Coast Guard is the lead agency in the recovery, with National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife divers participating in the search for the 26 people still missing. The Coast Guard spokesperson said the cause of the fire remained unknown. A team of 16 investigators has been sent to the scene from the National Transportation Safety Board, according to an announcement tweeted by the agency, who are specialists in survival factor, fire analysis, operations, and engineering.

Families can contact authorities at phone lines set up for family members only: (833) 688-5551 or (800) 400-1572 to get information or assistance.

[Update: Sept. 2, 2019, 9:17 a.m.] The Coast Guard confirmed the Conception was a Truth Aquatics boat, a well-known charter company based at Sea Landing in Santa Barbara Harbor. No updates were available on the missing people, the Coast Guard spokesperson said, but three boats and a helicopter were at the scene, and a dive team and second helicopter en route.

[Original Story] A dive boat based out of Santa Barbara Harbor caught fire around 3 a.m. on Monday off Santa Cruz Island, and 33 people are estimated to be missing. Five were rescued by a nearby private boat, the Great Escape. An unknown number are feared dead as the search continues; Ventura County Fire confirmed 38 people were on board. The boat was a commercial charter, carrying divers on a Labor Day trip to Santa Cruz Island, which is about 27 miles from Santa Barbara. They were caught below decks sleeping when the fire broke out, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Coast Guard reports the Conception radioed a mayday call at 3:15 a.m. Responding crews found the 75-foot vessel fully engulfed, and crews from Ventura and Santa Barbara fire departments tried to put out the flames. The boat sank 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water; the prow remains exposed. Helicopters from San Diego and Pt. Mugu Coast Guard stations are assisting in the search for the missing divers.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

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