The search for 34 people who are presumed to be dead after a diving boat caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, was called off Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The 75-foot commercial vessel called the Conception, carrying 33 passengers and 6 crew members, went up in flames at about 3:30 a.m. Monday, officials said.
“It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts,” U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said during a Tuesday news conference. But no signs of distress had been found during the 24-hour-long search, she said.
When asked if the called-off search was an indication that the Coast Guard believed everyone on the boat but the five crew members who escaped were dead, Rochester said: “That would be a correct assumption.”
The remains of 20 people — 11 women and 9 men — had been recovered, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said during the latest news conference. Between four and six additional bodies were seen trapped within the wreckage of the boat, Brown said.
He said authorities were in contact with families of 30 of the victims, and were collecting DNA samples from them to identify remains.
Earlier, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll said earlier that crews collected what appeared to be the bodies of 25 people. He said that figure needed to be confirmed by the coroner and “the numbers may change slightly.”
Five crew of six members, who were awake and above deck on the bridge of the ship when the fire broke out, jumped off and were rescued by a “good Samaritan” recreational vessel, Rochester said Monday.
The other crew member was among the 34 who are thought to be dead and were sleeping below deckwhen the fire broke out.
Coast Guard crews launched seven missions that covered 160 miles in the search for survivors that began early Monday morning, Rochester said.