The Coast Guard has suspended the search in response to a vessel fire that led to the sinking of the dive boat Conception near Santa Cruz Island Monday morning.
The Coast Guard suspended its search for survivors aboard the Conception Tuesday at 9:40 a.m. following a search that began Monday. In total, Coast Guard assets searched for 23 hours covering approximately 160 square miles.
Thirty-nine people were reported aboard the vessel at the time of the incident. Five people were rescued from the water during the initial response to the incident. The five people were evacuated aboard a good Samaritan pleasure craft, the Grape Escape. All five were reportedly crewmembers. One crewmember is still missing.
Several deceased victims have also been recovered from the scene. At least 20 people have died, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. It is assumed that a total of 34 people have died, Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said. She suspected that the passengers were trapped by the flames.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office – Coroner’s Office will release information regarding victims as it becomes available.
At approximately 3:30 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call via channel 16 of an engulfed 75-foot commercial diving vessel with 39 people aboard.
Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, and Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded. The fire department crews were fighting the fire when the vessel sank around 7:20 a.m. 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water.
The 75’x25′ vessel is owned by Truth Aquatics, Santa Barbara, and was built in 1981. For over 35 years the company has been exploring the wilderness of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands on its fleet of boats. The Truth Aquatics three-vessel fleet has been custom designed specifically for diving, while most other dive operations are comprised of vessels that have been converted from some previous use, according to the company’s website.
The Coast Guard said that its records show that the Conception was inspected in February, and the ship was in full compliance with regulatory requirements.
The vessel had reportedly been chartered for a three-day diving expedition led by Kristy Finstad of Worldwide Diving Adventures and was due to return today to Santa Barbara.
The cause of the incident is under investigation and names are being withheld pending next of kin notifications.