Rescue teams search for missing divers after boat sinks off California coast
Rescue teams search for missing divers after boat sinks off California coastREUTERS

Twenty-five people were killed and nine more remain missing after a diving boat caught on fire and sank off the coast of California Monday.

The Conception, a 75-foot charter boat maintained by the Truth Aquatics company and used to take guests on diving trips around the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California, went up in flames early Monday morning in a fire which erupted in the middle of the night, while most of those on board were asleep.

The boat, which is said to have had a sleeping capacity of 46, was carrying 39 people – including both guests and crew members – at the time of the fire.

Authorities received an emergency call from the Conception at 3:30 a.m. Monday, when the boat was anchored off of Santa Cruz Island, after having departed from Santa Barbara.

Several crew members are said to have been awake when the fire broke out, and sent the distress message while attempting to battle the blaze.

A US Coast Guard vessel responded to the call for help, but found the Conception totally engulfed by the flames.

Five crew members were rescued after having jumped from the burning ship as it sank.

Rescue teams have located 25 bodies, while one crew member and eight guests remain unaccounted for.

The missing crew member has been identified as 41-year-old Kristy Finstad.

“They’ve been searching for a long time now,” said Finstad’s brother, Brett Harmeling. “She’s extremely strong-willed and very adventurous. If there was a 1% chance of her making it, she would have made it.”

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

“This isn’t a day we wanted to wake up to for Labor Day and it’s a very tragic event,” Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester said. “I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome.”

Guests onboard the doomed boat included a 17-year-old girl and her parents, who had taken her on the diving trip to celebrate her birthday.

Two other passengers had also joined the diving trip to celebrate their birthdays, the Los Angeles Times reported.