Eight Confirmed Dead, 26 Still Missing in Boat Fire – Santa Barbara Edhat

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr Matthew Kroll confirmed Monday evening that 25 bodies have been discovered with 9 still missing, reports the Associated Press.

Four bodies were recovered earlier in the day with injuries consistent with drowning, according to Kroll. Sixteen other bodies were pulled from the water later that day with five more found on the ocean floor that are unable to be recovered due to unsafe conditions under the boat.

It’s unknown at this time when the nine bodies will be recovered. Searches are expected to continue throughout the evening and early morning.

Initial Response

At approximately 3:30 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call via channel 16 of an engulfed 75-foot commercial diving vessel with 39 people aboard.

Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded. The fire department crews were fighting the fire when the vessel sank 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water around 7:20 a.m.

Those onboard Conception were part of a scheduled 3-day trip that departed on August 31st. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown reported the boat was scheduled to return to the Santa Barbara on Tuesday morning, however other reports and an online itinerary state the boat was scheduled to return on Monday at 5:00 p.m. The boat is owned by Truth Aquatics and has been operational since 1974.

Sheriff Brown stated there were no initial reports of an explosion and the mayday call confirmed the fire was fully underway.

Victims and Survivors

Conception had 39 people on board, 6 crew members and 33 passengers.

Five people, all crew members, were rescued from the water during the initial response to the incident.

Four bodies were recovered and taken to the Coroner. They can only be identified as two adult males and two adult females, ages unknown. Sheriff Brown stated DNA may be needed to properly identify these victims, which will take time.

Four more bodies were spotted by divers on the ocean floor in close proximity of the boat. Dive teams are attempting the recovery of their bodies.

There are 26 people still unaccounted for. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff – Coroner’s Office will release information regarding victims as it becomes available pending next of kin notifications. They do have a list of passengers.

Sheriff Brown stated all passengers are from Southern California or beyond, appear to be diving enthusiasts, and is a mix of men, women, crew, and passengers. Brown also confirmed it does not appear that everyone knew one another.

Rescue and Recovery Operations

The Coast Guard is actively searching for additional people. The Coast Guard is scheduled to continue their search efforts throughout the night.

A 3,000-foot temporary flight restriction has been established around the Conception as well as a safety zone of 1 mile on the water so other vessels cannot go near the area.

“We should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome,” said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester.

Rochester also reported usually there is an emergency escape hatch from the bottom sleeping quarters to the main deck in this type of vessel. 

Conception is reported to have a one-foot portion of the bow sticking out of the water and is currently inverted in 60-62 feet of water with tides moving it around. 

Agencies are discussing if it’s possible to tow the boat but have not made a final determination.

Watchstanders launched two Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium crews, a Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco Forward Operating Base Mugu Dolphin MH-65 helicopter crew, a Coast Guard Air Station San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and the Coast Guard Cutter Narwhal. 

A Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, a Forward Operating Base Mugu MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are on scene.

Investigative Agencies

A joint investigation is being conducted between local, state, and federal agencies that all have jurisdiction, said Sheriff Brown.

The Sheriff’s Office will serve as Coroner with help from outside agencies, disaster and emergency response is on scene from a state level, and federal agencies from NTSB, FBI, and Coast Guard are also involved.

“Our primary concerns are victims and loved ones,” said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley. Santa Barbara County shares legal jurisdiction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, both will be monitoring the investigation.

The crew was interviewed by Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Coast Guard, but information surrounding these interviews have not been released.

Captain Rochester from the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed annual inspections show Conception was in full compliance.

Family Assitance Center

A Family Assistance Center has been set up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara in Warren Hall. Family, friends, and loved ones of those affected by this incident will be able to receive information, support, resources, and mental health counseling. Members of local clergy, Chaplains, Hospice, Red Cross, emergency personnel, and more will be able to provide services.

It will be open until 9:00 p.m. Monday and will reopen on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. The center will remain open until Thursday or as long as it’s needed. Additionally, a family assistance number has been established at (833) 688-5551 or (800) 400-1572.​


Update by edhat staff

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