What we know about the Santa Cruz Island boat fire disaster

Around 3:30 a.m. on Labor Day, the U.S. Coast Guard responded to a mayday call from a a dive boat in distress off Santa Cruz Island in Southern California. They found the vessel completely ablaze.

The Coast Guard says five crew members on the bridge at the time of the fire were rescued by a passing good Samaritan vessel, but 34 passengers who were sleeping below deck have not been accounted for.

According to the Coast Guard, the boat sank in 64 feet of water while crews were fighting the fire. It was 20 yards from the shoreline of the island in the Channel Islands, and rescue teams are currently combing the shore for any survivors.

As rescue efforts continue, here’s what we know so far:

— The commercial scuba diving vessel Conception was on a three-day Labor Day excursion. The trip afforded divers the opportunity to visit the Northern Channel Islands.

“On the Labor Day trip, divers have the unique opportunity to explore the pinnacles of San Miguel Island,” the ad on Worldwide Diving Adventures reads. “The beginning of September is the best time to be at San Mig, which see strong winds and swell during much of the year.”

— The boat is owned by Truth Aquatics, based in Santa Barbara, but was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a Santa Cruz-based company that provides “exotic dive trips, scuba instruction, and local boat diving in Monterey and the Channel Islands.”

The contact information for the Northern Channel Islands trip points to Dan Chua, one of three family members listed on the Worldwide Diving Adventures site. The adventure company was founded in 1972 by Bill Finstad in Santa Cruz. The site says his daughter Kristy and her husband, Chua, both licensed scuba instructors, lead excursions.

TripAdvisor photos of a Truth Aquatics’ dive boat bunk room show the quarters customers would have used during overnight stays. Beds are stacked two or three tall with curtains for privacy.

— The Conception left from Santa Barbara Harbor early Saturday morning and was set to return at 5 p.m. today.

— The cause of the fire is not known at this time.

Katie Dowd is an SFGATE Senior Digital Editor. Contact: katie.dowd@sfgate.com | Twitter: @katiedowd

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/conception-dive-boat-sinking-fire-origins-14407113.php.

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