Diving Boat Mayday Caller: 'I Can't Breathe'

34 are missing after the Conception catches fire, sinks
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2019 2:15 PM CDT
Diving Vessel 'Was Totally Engulfed in Flames'
A firefighter battles the blaze on the Conception.   (YouTube/Inside Edition)

The search continues—but four bodies have turned up since a commercial diving boat caught fire off the California coast Monday and sank with 34 people apparently on board, the AP reports. Passengers of the Conception were said to be trapped below deck as flames engulfed the 75-foot vessel. Ventura County firefighters responded just before 3:30am near Santa Cruz Island, per the Orange County Register, and the vessel sank only 20 yards from shore in 64 feet of water. For more:

  • "I can't breathe," said a Conception passenger who made a mayday call in the early hours, per ABC News. Rescuers from multiple counties poured in by air and boats as local agencies assisted and firefighters battled the blaze.

  • Passengers were likely asleep below deck when the fire broke out and five crew members fled for their lives, per the New York Times. They used an inflatable boat to reach a nearby fishing boat. Two of them were injured.
  • The Conception "was totally engulfed in flames," says Bob Hansen, co-owner of the fishing boat. "I could see the fire coming through holes on the side of the boat. There were these explosions every few beats. ... It was horrendous."
  • A US Coast Guard dispatcher could be heard talking to the Conception's captain on a marine scanner channel, per Heavy. "Are they locked inside the boat?" the dispatcher asks. "Can you get back on board and unlock the doors so they can get off? Was that all the crew that jumped off? Is this the captain?" Captain: "Roger." Dispatcher: "There's no escape hatch?"
  • A diver who's taken trips with the vessel's owner, Truth Aquatics, says the crew usually sleeps up top and divers in a cramped space below: "Especially on a full boat like this weekend, there were probably divers filling every possible bunk," she tells CBS Los Angeles.
  • Truth Aquatics has a good reputation in the diving world and runs multiple boats off the Southern California coast, per the LA Times. Owner Glen Fritzler says the company has taken over 450,000 divers on more than a million dives.
  • The Conception was in "full compliance," a US Coast Guard captain tells ABC News. "We are working deliberately with the vessel owner/operator, who is with us" to provide more help.
  • First launched in 1981, the Conception could hold 46 people and had life jackets and rafts for 110. There was also a "fixed CO2 engine room for fire suppression," per the Register.
  • The Conception was chartered by Santa-Cruz based company Worldwide Diving Adventures, per the San Francisco Chronicle. The three-day excursion around the Northern Channel Islands was set to end at 5pm Monday.
(Read about the initial blaze.)

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