At Least 4 Dead, 30 Missing In Charter Boat Fire Off Ventura County Coast – CBS Los Angeles

VENTURA (CBSLA) – Five people were rescued, at least four people were killed and another 30 remain missing after a blaze broke out on a charter boat early Monday morning directly off Santa Cruz Island, across from the Ventura County coastline. Authorities confirmed there are fatalities, although the exact number is unknown.

This photo shows the burned out charter dive boat “Conception” just before it sank off Santa Cruz Island, near the coast of Ventura County. Sept. 2, 2019. (Credit: Ventura County Fire Department)

At 3:15 a.m., the U.S. Coast Guard and Ventura County Fire Department crews rushed to a mayday call that the “Conception,” a 75-foot-long charter dive boat carrying 39 people, was ablaze 20 yards off Platts Harbor on the north side of Santa Cruz Island, which is located about 30 miles west of the city of Ventura.

“I can’t breathe!” a member of the crew can be heard screaming in the mayday call obtained by CBS2. There was no word on what may have sparked the blaze.

All five crew members aboard were rescued by a passing good Samaritan boat called the “Grape Escape,” while 34 passengers remain unaccounted for. The crew members jumped off the burning boat, Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told reporters at a news briefing from Channel Islands Harbor.

(Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Mike Eliason)

“The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge and they jumped off,” Rochester said.

The passengers were all below deck at the time.

“The report I received is they (the passengers) were below deck asleep,” Rochester said.

Ventura County Fire crews battled the blaze, but the boat eventually sank in 64 feet of water, about 20 yards off shore.

Just before 11 a.m., the Coast Guard told the Associated Press that four bodies had been recovered near the burned out boat, leaving 30 people unaccounted for.

As of noon, the Coast Guard was scouring the area with choppers and boats for any possible survivors who had managed to jump off the Conception or made it to the shore.

At around 7:30 a.m., one of the surviving crew members was seen being boated in to Channel Island Harbor by rescuers and then placed into an ambulance to be taken to a hospital. He appeared to have suffered a leg injury. It’s unclear if the man was a crew member or one of the divers.

CBS2 has confirmed Conception is owned by Truth Aquatics, a boat rental service based out of Santa Barbara. It was built in Long Beach and first launched in 1981. According to Truth Aquatics’ website, Conception has a maximum capacity of 46 people. The company would not immediately comment on the incident when reached by CBS2. The charter appeared to have been booked by a group called Worldwide Diving Adventures.

An undated photo of “Conception.” (Truth Aquatics)

Experienced diver and CBS2 employee Darla Fletcher, who has taken several diving trips with Truth Aquatics, explained that the divers’ quarters on the boat are below deck and very cramped.

“Typically, the crew members will sleep up top, they’re not gonna sleep down there with the divers,” Fletcher said. “Especially on a full boat like this weekend, there were probably divers filling every possible bunk.”

The layout for the sleeping quarters of the “Conception.”  (Credit: Truth Aquatic)

Fletcher spoke highly of Truth Aquatics, which has been running charters since 1974.

“They’re a great company to dive with,” Fletcher said. “They take care of you. All their crew members are always looking out for you. They are just an amazing group of people.”

President Donald Trump retweeted a Ventura County Fire Department tweet about the fire, indicating he had been briefed on the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team out to investigate.

Family members of those aboard the ship seeking information can call the Coast Guard at 833-688-5551 or 805-696-1188.

Santa Cruz Island is one eight islands that make up the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California, which includes Catalina Island.

LISTEN BELOW: Audio Of The Conception’s May Day Call

Actor Rob Lowe, a Santa Barbara resident, said in a tweet Saturday, “My heart breaks for those onboard the Conception. An unspeakable horror on a boat I’ve been on many times. My prayers and thoughts are with the families.”

 

 

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