Thirty-three feared dead in boat fire off Santa Barbara County coast

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Authorities fear 33 people died after a boat caught fire off the Channel Islands Monday morning and sank as firefighters were trying to extinguish the blaze.

At about 3:15 a.m., Conception, a 75-foot commercial diving vessel made a mayday. There were 38 people aboard the boat, which was on a three-day diving trip that left Santa Barbara on Saturday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The boat was anchored off the north side of Santa Cruz Island, which is near the Santa Barbara and Ventura County coasts. Crews from the Coast Guard, Vessel Assist and the Santa Barbara and Ventura County fire departments arrived at the scene.

Fire department crews were battling the blaze when the boat sank 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water, according to the Coast Guard.

Emergency responders rescued five people, but at least initially, authorities could not account for the other 33 individuals aboard the vessel. The five people rescued were crew members who were awake above deck and jumped into the water.

People on a nearby vessel, The Grape Escape, rescued the five crew members. There were 33 people below deck.

Numerous Coast Guard rescue crews were deployed to the scene after the boat sank.

A portion of the boat was sticking out of the water later in the morning.