USCG suspends search for California boat fire survivors after 20 bodies found; 14 still missing

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Tuesday for survivors of an early morning boat fire off the coast of Southern California that's believed to have claimed the lives of 34 people.

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Authorities said 33 passengers and six crew members were on 75-foot dive boat Conception when it became engulfed in flames after 3 a.m. Monday. Five crew members were rescued by a passing boat.

The Conception sank Monday about 20 yards off the north shore of Santa Cruz Island.

Update 9:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 3: 

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board has arrived in California to begin investigating the dive boat fire that is believed to have killed 34 people.

Board member Jennifer Homendy says that she’s “100% confident” investigators will find the cause of the fire aboard the vessel Conception.

The NTSB plans to stay at the scene for up to 10 days and will look into safety measures aboard the boat, such as whether it had fire extinguishers, and will interview survivors, first responders, divers and others.

Update 1:35 p.m. EDT Sept. 3: Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters that officials are working Tuesday to stabilize what's left of the Conception to allow divers to search the vessel.

"Sadly no additional survivors have been found," he said at a news conference.

Searchers have recovered 20 bodies, Brown said. Between four and six others were seen by divers, he said, but divers were not able to recover them Monday night.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said Coast Guard officials suspended their search Tuesday morning.

Brown said DNA testing will be conducted to confirm the victims' identities, which have not been released. Brown said the victims whose bodies have been recovered including 11 females and nine males.

Update 1:05 p.m. EDT Sept. 3: Officials are holding a news conference Tuesday afternoon to update the public on search efforts after Monday morning's deadly fire on the Conception.

Update 12:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 3: An official with Pacific Collegiate School, a charter high school in Santa Cruz, California, told the San Francisco Chronicle that some of the school's students were on the Conception on Monday when a deadly blaze engulfed the boat.

The official, who identified herself only as Sonya, told the Chronicle the trip had not been organized by school officials.

“All we know is what you know, so we are not commenting at this time,” she told the newspaper. “Our priority is our students.”

Family members told the Los Angeles Times that marine biologist Kristy Finstad, 41, was missing after Monday's fire.

"She's extremely strong-willed and very adventurous," Finstad's brother, Brett Harmeling, told the Times. "If there was a 1% chance of her making it, she would have made it."

Officials are expected to provide an update on the ongoing search for survivors of the fire at a news conference scheduled to start at 10 a.m. local time.

Update 1 a.m. EDT Sept. 3: Coast Guard officials said 25 bodies have now been recovered and that nine people remain missing, the Associated Press tweeted.

Update 12:05 a.m. EDT Sept. 3: Police have spoken with five of the six crew members who escaped the boat fire, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. It was not revealed what the said Sunday afternoon, but police said that, at this stage, they have no reason to believe it involved a criminal act.

Update 9:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said it is unlikely the 26 people still missing from the boat fire are alive.

"We will search all the way through the night into the morning, but I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome," she said, according to the AP.

Four bodies were recovered from the waters just off Santa Cruz Island. Four others were found on the ocean floor near the boat, which is in relatively shallow waters, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

"It's upside down in relatively shallow water with receding tides that are moving it around," Brown said.

Update 7:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said four more bodies were recovered.on the ocean floor close to the dive boat, CNN reported. Of the four bodies recovered earlier, two are male and two are female.

Officials are still working to locate and recover remains.

Update 5:35 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told reporters at a news conference that shoreline searches are continuing for "any available survivors."

Coast Guard officials believe said the vessel carried 38 people, including five crew members who jumped off soon after the fire ignited.

"The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge, and they jumped off," Rochester said, according to the AP.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney said two people suffered minor injuries.

Update 3:15 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll told The Associated Press four bodies were recovered Monday after a fire engulfed a dive boat off the coast of Southern California.

The bodies had injuries consistent with drowning, according to the AP.

Officials said five people were rescued by a passing boat early Monday after the fire broke out. The search for the more than two dozen others who were on board when the fire started continued Monday afternoon.

Update 3:05 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: Officials continue to scour the area around Santa Cruz Island in search of survivors of Monday's early morning boat fire.

Update 1:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a go-team to California to investigate Monday's fire.

Update 12:20 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told reporters Monday morning that 39 people were on board the dive boat Conception when a fire engulfed it in the pre-dawn hours.

Officials continue to search for 34 people who remained unaccounted for after the fire caused the boat to sink about 20 yards off the shore of Santa Cruz Island in Southern California, Rochester said. They were believed to have been asleep when the fire started.

Search and rescue efforts continued Monday.

Update 12:15 p.m. EDT Sept. 2: Officials are holding a news conference to provide updates on the investigation into Monday morning's boat fire.

Update 11:40 a.m. EDT Sept. 2: Coast Guard officials said the Conception sank about 20 yards off the shore of Santa Cruz Island on Monday morning in 64 feet of water.

People on a boat called the Great Escape, which officials described as a pleasure craft, were able to save five people on the boat before it sank, authorities said.

Coast Guard officials said 33 people remained unaccounted for Monday morning.

Update 10:35 a.m. EDT Sept. 2: Officials with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department identified the boat that caught fire early Monday off the coast of Southern California as a dive boat named Conception based in the Santa Barbara Harbor.

Update 9:55 a.m. EDT Sept. 2: Capt. Brian McGrath of the Ventura County Fire Department told KCBS-TV that 34 people were unaccounted for after Monday morning's fire broke out on a dive boat near Santa Cruz Island.

Ventura County public information officer Bill Nash told CNN several fatalities were reported.

"It's a large boat, and we know we have numerous fatalities," he told the news network. "I don't have an exact number."

Update 9:35 a.m. EDT Sept. 2: Ventura County fire officials said authorities responded a fire on a dive boat on the north side of Santa Cruz island around 3:30 a.m. local time.

Authorities told CNN the boat reportedly had 39 people on board. Officials could not immediately confirm reports that several people were killed in the fire.

Coast Guard officials told CNN that five people were rescued from the boat.

Original report: Coast Guard officials in Los Angeles said authorities were responding around 4:50 a.m. local time to reports of a fire on a 75-foot boat near Santa Cruz Island.

Coast Guard officials said a group of crew members was rescued after the incident was reported. One person suffered minor injuries.

Check back for updates to this developing story.

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