At least 25 people dead, 9 more missing after boat catches fire off California coast

At least 25 people dead, 9 more missing after boat catches fire off California coast
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By Audrey Conklin 

At least 25 people have been confirmed dead in the search for 34 people who went missing Monday after a scuba-diving boat caught fire near the Ventura County coastline in California.

Five bodies were discovered on the boat, and twenty more were found nearby on the ocean floor during a rescue operation between Monday night and Tuesday morning, CBS Los Angeles reported, citing a Coast Guard press conference.

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Thirty-nine people total were aboard the diving boat when it caught fire and sank 20 yards underwater. Five crew members were rescued and another nine remain unaccounted for, according to CBS LA.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

A man who identified himself as the captain of the Conception made an SOS call while aboard the engulfed boat, saying, “I can’t breathe. … There’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board,” according to an official transcript.

The five crew members who escaped the fire left while passengers were still asleep below deck, KCBX reported.

The five crew members were reportedly “already awake and on the bridge, and they jumped off” when the boat set fire, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told reporters, according to KCBX.

Santa Barbara County Fire spokesperson Mike Eliason told reporters, “The crew quarters are above [deck] and the passengers are below. … We have investigators there that are assisting the [Santa Barbara County] Sheriff’s Department,” adding that it still too early to know the cause of the fire.

“They are going to interview the crew members and try to determine what happened,” he continued, adding that Santa Barbara County Fire, Coroner’s Bureau and Coast Guard “will begin the grim task of going underwater and making the recovery of those still on board” when the boat sank.

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