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Coast Guard searches for 34 people feared dead in California boat fire

Crews battle a boat that caught on fire near Santa Cruz Island, Calif. on Sept. 2, 2019. (Ventura County Fire Department/Released)
September 02, 2019

The Coast Guard has launched an urgent search for 34 people reported missing from a boat that sank after catching fire off the Southern California coast.

A 75-foot dive boat caught fire early Monday morning around 3:23 a.m. PST near Santa Cruz Island, just west of Los Angeles, Calif., leaving “numerous fatalities” and 34 people missing, CNN reported Monday morning.

“It’s a 75-foot commercial dive vessel that reportedly had 39 people on board. The five crew members able to disembark because they were in the main cabin. The 34 passengers were below decks,” Coast Guard Senior Chief Aaron Bemis told CNN.

The passengers were sleeping in cabins at the time of the fire.

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Bemis added that rescue crews aren’t able to board the boat because the fire was continually re-flashing, potentially due to the boat’s fuel. The boat later sank as crews were fighting the fire.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason told CNN, “They are unaccounted for, but it’s very foggy out there.”

“We’re still holding hope that someone may have swam to shore. When they anchor overnight they’re pretty close to shore. We have to hope, but we plan for worst case scenario,” he added.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Los Angeles unit tweeted, “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. More details will be available later as this operation continues.”

“The vessel was reported as being on fire. The a group of crew members has been rescued (one with minor injuries) and efforts continue to evacuate the remaining passengers,” another tweet said.

Ventura County spokesman Bill Nash said numerous agencies were responding to the fire.

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“It’s a large boat, and we know we have numerous fatalities. I don’t have an exact number,” Nash said.

The boat is reportedly popular for overnight dives and fishing.