33 bodies recovered following dive-boat fire, 1 missing

Search crews have recovered the bodies of 33 people who died when a chartered dive-boat caught fire and sank off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, officials said Wednesday.

dive-boat fire
Authorities cart away evidence taken from the scuba boat Conception in Santa Barbara Harbor at the end of their second day searching for the remaining divers who were missing on Sept. 3, 2019, in Santa Barbara.

One passenger believed to have perished in the Labor Day disaster remains missing, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department said.

The sheriff’s department said in a statement that 13 bodies were recovered by nightfall on Tuesday; a day after 20 were pulled from the Pacific Ocean floor.

“They have not yet been identified by the coroner, but our search shows that we have one remains outstanding.” the statement reads.

As the search-and-recovery mission continued near the Channel Islands; about a mile off the coast of Santa Barbara, the National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into what caused the calamity.

“I am 100% confident that our investigators will determine the cause of this fire, why it occurred, how it occurred and what is needed to prevent it from happening again, absolutely.” Jennifer Homendy, a member of the NTSB, said at a news conference Tuesday evening.

FBI investigators climb aboard the Vision, a sister vessel to the scuba boat Conception, to document its layout and learn more about the deadly pre-dawn fire in Santa Barbara.

The recovery of the additional bodies came a day after the U.S. Coast Guard announced that the search-and-rescue mission has been suspended and has now become a search-and-recovery effort.

There were 39 people aboard the 75-foot ship named the Conception when a fire erupted about 3:30 a.m. local time on Monday, officials said. Meanwhile, five crew members, including the captain, jumped overboard and were rescued by a nearby good Samaritan vessel, officials said.

The 34 people killed in the disaster were apparently asleep in the lower deck of the three-deck boat, officials said. The flames apparently blocked a stairway leading to the upper decks and also an escape hatch; trapping the victims, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on Tuesday.