By KAREN VELIE
Searchers have found the bodies of eight people who died after a boat caught fire off the Channel Islands Monday morning. One crew member and 25 divers remain missing, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown during a press conference on Monday.
Rescue crews brought the bodies of two men and two women ashore on Monday afternoon. Later, crews discovered four additional victims near the sunken ship, but because of the instability of the vessel, they were unable to recover the bodies at that time.
In order to identify the victims, it is likely DNA testing will be required, Brown said. Search and rescue efforts are ongoing and will continue throughout the night.
The Conception, a 75-foot commercial diving vessel, was anchored off the north side of Santa Cruz Island for a weekend diving excursion. At about 3:15 a.m., a crew member made a mayday call in which a man was heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Bob Hansen and his wife were on a on nearby vessel, The Grape Escape, when they heard a pounding on their boat. The couple helped rescue the five crew members, Hanson told The Daily Beast.
“I put on some shorts and walked outside and opened the door, and here’s five guys in a little rubber boat and a 75-foot commercial boat on fire,” Hansen told the Daily Beast. “It was really on fire … the whole thing engulfed in flames.
“The flames were shooting up 25 feet. I felt so helpless. It’s just burning. There were five tanks that were blowing up — or we thought there were — these big pops.”
The wreckage ended upside down on the ocean floor in about 60 feet of water.
Rescuers will continue searching throughout the night for survivors, but plan to “make the unfortunate transition to recovery” in the morning.