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Thirty-four people are feared dead after a California boat fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island early Monday morning.

The Coast Guard said it responded after overhearing a Mayday call at about 3:15 a.m. of an “engulfed 75-foot commercial diving vessel” with 39 people aboard. Shortly before 5 a.m. local time, the Coast Guard tweeted that it was coordinating a large rescue effort in response to the fire.

“The Coast Guard has launched multiple rescue assets along with assets from local agencies to assist more than 30 people in distress on a 75ft boat near Santa Cruz Island,” the tweet read.

Firefighters from two local fire departments were fighting the fire when the vessel, a 75-foot diving and fishing boat named Conception, sank 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

There was no word on what sparked the blaze.

California boat fire: 34 feared dead

Thirty-four people are feared dead after a California boat fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island early Monday morning. (Photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department)

California boat fire:
Sleeping below deck

Those unaccounted for were the boat’s 34 passengers, all of whom were sleeping below deck when the fire started, said Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester. She said the five people who were rescued were the boat’s crew, including the captain.

“The crew was already awake and jumped off the bridge into the water,” Rochester said.

California boat fire:
No comment from owner

Truth Aquatics, the diving company that owns the Conception, provided no comment to CNN. The employee who answered at Truth Aquatics said, “We are trying to keep our lines open for the Coast Guard at this time, so we don’t have any comment.”

The Conception, which is based in Santa Barbara Harbor, set out Saturday for a diving excursion, according to the Truth Aquatics website. The boat was set to return at 5 p.m. local time today.

The company’s website said the crew was using the Conception this weekend to visit San Miguel Island. “This rarely visited island is loaded with color: anemones, crabs, nudibranchs covering every inch of wall with a rainbow,” the Truth Aquatics website reads.

California boat fire:
Close quarters below deck

Darla Fletcher, an employee of CBS2-TV and an experienced diver, said she has taken several diving trips with Truth Aquatics. She said the divers’ quarters on the boat are below deck and very cramped.

“Typically, the crew members will sleep up top; they’re not gonna sleep down there with the divers,” Fletcher said. “Especially on a full boat like this weekend, there were probably divers filling every possible bunk.”

Fletcher said only complimentary things about Truth Aquatics, which has been running charters since 1974. “They’re a great company to dive with,” she said. “They take care of you. All their crew members are always looking out for you. They are just an amazing group of people.”


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