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Search efforts suspended for missing California dive boat victims

Santa Cruz Island, California — Search efforts for the remaining victims of a California dive boat fire have been suspended. The announcement was made Tuesday by the U.S. Coast Guard.

To date, 20 bodies of the 39 known to have been onboard the boat have been recovered from the 75-foot dive boat, Conception. The boat, which caught fire over the Labor Day weekend, was anchored for the night off the coast of California.

Only four crew members and the boat’s captain were found alive. Those who perished in the fire were said to be sleeping below deck when the 3:28 a.m. fire began, trapping them from escape. Those who did survive were on on the upper third deck at the time of the fire and jumped into the sea where they were rescued by a “good samaritan” recreation vessel.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters a total of 39 people were on the vessel. Of the 20 bodies recovered, 11 were women and nine, men. He said that divers reported seeing four to six bodies in the wreckage, but they were unable to recover them as of yet due to the instability of the boat.

Monica Rochester of the United States Coast Guard said the search was suspended because after a fly over Tuesday, no additional signs of distress or debris was seen, she said adding that the search and rescue operation is now a recovery mission.

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

“It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts,” Rochester said. “We know that this is a very difficult time for families and friends of the victims,” explaining that crews searched 160-mile radius for nearly 24 hours before making their decision.

She said their investigation will now turn to “why this incident occurred and what we can learn from this tragedy,” adding that investigators will interview the surviving crew members.

The deadly fire broke out Monday night around 3:28 a.m. with 33 passengers and six crew members on board what was supposed to be a long weekend dive excursion. The vessel was anchored approximately 20 miles off shore when the fire began. By 7:20 a.m., it began to sink in 64-feet of water, reported Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason.