LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — Rescue workers have recovered a total of 33 bodies from a scuba-diving boat disaster off the coast of California, authorities said Wednesday, adding that one person remains missing.
Search operations for survivors were suspended Tuesday morning, and rescuers have begun an operation to free remains still trapped in the wreckage, which sank 66 feet (20 meters), and to determine the cause of the catastrophe.
The remains of 11 women and nine men were found after the 75-foot Conception caught fire and sank early Monday, trapping passengers below deck beneath the roaring blaze.
Divers have since recovered 13 other bodies, according to the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s department, which is in charge of the investigation.
All the remains have been transported to coroner offices for DNA identification. Authorities have not released details on any victims’ identities.
The boat had been on a diving excursion around Santa Cruz Island, just west of Santa Barbara in southern California.
A total of 39 people — six crew members and 33 passengers — were on board, officials said.
Five crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am Monday. They were rescued by a nearby pleasure craft.
The remaining 34 people on board, who were sleeping below deck, appear to have been trapped by the flames.
The fire was so intense that firefighters were unable to board the boat, which sank as they tried to extinguish the blaze. The cause of the disaster is currently unknown.
The website for Truth Aquatics, which owned the Conception, said the ship was scheduled to return Monday from a three-day trip after visiting several diving spots around Santa Cruz Island.
Built in 1981 and with bunks for up to 46 people, the Conception was just 20 yards (meters) off the island’s northern shore when disaster struck.
The area is popular for a variety of water and outdoor sports.
© Agence France-Presse