A blaze broke out on a scuba diving vessel near the southern coast of California early on Monday, leaving 25 people dead; nine are still missing.
The 75-foot (20-meter) commercial scuba diving vessel was on a three-day excursion when the fire broke out.
It was anchored roughly 20 yards (18 meters) off the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island, some 140 kilometers (90 miles) west of Los Angeles.
Santa Cruz Island, part of California’s Channel Islands National Park, is a popular destination for divers due its underwater attractions, including colorful corals and large marine mammals.
The fire broke out in the lower portion of the boat at around 3 a.m. (1030 UTC), while most of the people on board were asleep.
How the fire began still remains unclear, authorities said. The US Coast Guard (USCG) deployed helicopters, small boats and a patrol cutter ship to the scene.
‘It was horrendous’
Five crew members who were sleeping on the top deck managed to escape the blaze. “The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge and they jumped off,” said US Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester.
The crew members swam to the pleasure boat Grape Escape, which was anchored nearby, and were rescued.
Bob and Shirley Hansen, owners of the Grape Escape, told US daily The New York Times that the frightened crew members came on board as the dive boat was already in flames.
“I could see the fire coming through holes on the side of the boat. There were these explosions every few beats. You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous,” said Bob Hansen.
“The fire was too big, there was absolutely nothing we could do,” he added.
Rochester said as a result of the fire, the vessel sank in 64 feet (19.5 meters) of water, with its bow still visible above the waterline.
Initially, the coast guard recovered four bodies from the water, leaving 29 people still missing. But later in the day, divers found four more bodies on the ocean floor.