A commercial diving boat named Conception caught fire around 3 a.m. Monday while it was anchored off the coast of Southern California, killing 25 people on board.
The 23-meter-long boat was anchored 18 meters off the Santa Cruz Island with 33 passengers and six crew members on board, The Associated Press reported. Some crew members reportedly went to bed late, helping the three passengers, who were having a birthday party in the kitchen the night before the accident.
The Washington Post reported that fire suddenly broke out in the kitchen and engulfed the boat in an instant, adding that passengers, who were sleeping on the bunk beds that are tightly stacked next to one another in the cabin, were trapped.
Only five crew members escaped on a dinghy and were saved by a nearby boat. The U.S. Coast Guard told the AP that 25 bodies were found and they are searching for the nine people still unaccounted for, but there is a slim chance they will be found alive.
The cause for the fire has not been announced. “The diving tanksㅡusually filled with compressed air or a nitrogen/oxygen mix known as nitroxㅡmight have fueled the fired,” the WP reported. Survivors said they heard and saw the explosive bursts each time a tank exploded on the boat.
The Coast Guard recovered four bodies off the Santa Cruz Island right after the accident had occurred and 16 others on Tuesday afternoon. Five bodies were found on the ocean floor near the boat that sank in about 20 meters of water.
The tickets for the excursion were 665 U.S. dollars (approx. 810,000 won). The boat, which left the Santa Barbara coast on Saturday, was scheduled to come back around 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Conception was built in 1981 and has a maximum capacity of 46 people. Authorities said the boat operator did not appear to have any violations.
Taek Kyoon Sohn email@example.com