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‘Mayday! I can’t breathe!’ 34 feared dead in horrific boat fire off California coast

‘Mayday! I can’t breathe!’ 34 feared dead in horrific boat fire off California coast
Dozens of people are feared dead after the 75-foot scuba diving boat ‘Conception’ caught fire just before 3:30am and sank near Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California, leaving the sleeping passengers little chance to flee.

Five crew members were awake on the top deck of the vessel when the fire broke out, and one was able to make a mayday call before the fire forced them to abandon ship. In a transcript of the call obtained by CNN, the dispatcher can be heard asking “You don’t have any firefighter gear at all? No fire extinguishers or nothing?” and “There’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board?” while the crew member’s responses are largely inaudible, except for an “I can’t breathe.”

The crew members were rescued by a good Samaritan crew in a pleasure craft called 'Grape Escape.’ A total of 25 bodies have been recovered so far, with nine people still missing, according to media reports. At least 38 people were on board, the US Coast Guard said.

Crew members told their rescuers that the passengers trapped on the burning vessel included one of their girlfriends and three birthday parties, including one of a 17-year-old.

This is probably the worst-case scenario you could possibly have,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters during a press conference, explaining that the ship’s location and the time contributed to the tragedy, with most passengers asleep until it was too late. “Fire is the scourge of any ship.”

‘Mayday! I can’t breathe!’ 34 feared dead in horrific boat fire off California coast

Crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded to the incident. The fire department crews were fighting the blaze when the vessel sank 20 yards off shore in 64 feet of water. In a press conference on Monday morning a Coast Guard spokesperson said its full efforts were still in a “response posture,” searching for survivors. The searches are being carried out in the water and on land in case any survivors managed to reach the shore.

By Monday evening, however, hopes that the missing passengers were still alive had begun to wane. “We will search all the way through the night, into the morning,” promised Coast Guard Cpt. Monica Rochester during a press conference, “but I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome.

The rescue effort has been complicated by the position of the boat, which is upside down in relatively shallow water with receding tides. “At some point, they’re going to have to make a determination when the best time is to…either re-float that vessel and attempt to recover anyone inside or try to make the recovery while it’s still on the ocean floor,” explained Brown.

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The FBI is assisting with the investigation into the fire, according to CBS, though no criminal activity has been suggested, authorities say. The National Transportation Safety Board has also reportedly sent a team to investigate.

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