25 dead, many missing in California boat fire


Twenty-five bodies have been recovered on the ocean floor after a boat was destroyed by fire off the coast of California, the US Coast Guard says.

Nine people are still missing. Five crew members had escaped earlier.

The fire started in the early hours of Monday. The boat was anchored just metres off Santa Cruz Island, about 90 miles (145km) west of Los Angeles.

The Conception – a commercial diving boat – is now submerged. The cause of the blaze is so far unknown.

At a news conference, Sheriff Bill Brown said 39 people were on board the vessel when fire broke out.

Coastguard services overheard a mayday call at 03:30 local time (10:30 GMT) on Monday, saying that the boat was engulfed in flames, according to Capt Monica Rochester, the coastguard sector commander for Los Angeles/Long Beach.

Reports suggested some passengers could have been trapped below deck.

Those who escaped the fire may have been sleeping in the main cabin of the boat rather than below.

They were awake and had jumped off the boat’s bridge before a Good Samaritan vessel called The Grape Escape arrived to rescue them. One survivor has minor injuries.

Sheriff Brown speculated that oxygen or propane tanks could have exploded during the fire, but there was no sign this sparked the blaze.

“Nothing in the [mayday] broadcast from the vessel… indicated there was an initial explosion,” he said.

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