The U.S. Coast Guard recovered 25 bodies after a boat caught fire and sank off the coast of southern California early Monday, while authorities are still searching for nine missing people, according to U.S. media reports.
In what the New York Times called "one of California's worst maritime disasters in decades," the fire broke out while the 20-meter diving boat was anchored off the shore of Santa Cruz Island, just west Los Angeles, in the predawn hours.
Five crew members, who were awake at the time, jumped off the boat immediately after it caught fire and were rescued by a nearby ship.
I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome," Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester told a press conference.
The vessel, Conception, built in 1981, sank while attempts were being made to extinguish the fire. Most passengers aboard were sleeping below deck when the blaze broke out, according to the Associated Press.
A total of 39 people - 33 passengers and six crew were on the boat when it was engulfed in flames, according to a local fire department.
One of the five survivors told a local television station there was a propane gas explosion on board. An eyewitness on board a nearby ship was reported by media as saying that he heard an explosion and then saw fire break out in several spots.
The National Transportation Safety Board has decided to dispatch its officials to probe the cause of the fire.
The boat was scheduled to return to Santa Barbara on Monday after a three-day trip over the Labor Day weekend.
Santa Cruz Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park, is a popular tourist destination known for leisure activities including, diving, snorkeling, and whale watching.
Source: Kazinform News Agency
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