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Dive boat catches fire off California coast - 4 killed on first count

California, September 3: At least four people died after a fire broke out on a dive boat   off the Southern California coast. The bodies of the four people were recovered early Monday, according to local authorities. At about 3:15 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call regarding the engulfed 75-foot commercial vessel. Crews responded to the call, but the boat sank 20 yards offshore in 64 feet of water. Five crew members escaped the vessel safely before it sank, though two suffered minor injuries, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney.

Meanwhile, 34 people who were aboard the ill-fated vessel were still missing as of Monday afternoon. The boat, Conception, was on the last day of a Labor Day weekend cruise and en route to the Channel Islands when the fire erupted. It departed at 4 a.m. Saturday and planned to return at 5 p.m. Monday.

When asked if the crew tried to help others before fleeing, Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said she had no "additional information." The boat, launched in 1981, was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures — a company that has been taking divers on expeditions since the 1970s and accommodating “explorers, honeymooners, families and teams,” according to its website.

The trip advertised opportunities to see ocean life and coral around the Channel Islands, which are said to be among the best in the world for recreational diving.

In a photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, firefighters were seen working to extinguish the flames on the dive boat where the deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast Monday morning, Sept. 2, 2019.  

Rafts and life jackets were available for up to 110 passengers, the website noted, and there were exits on the port, starboard and bow. Divers sleep in a single room of bunk beds, which offered pillows, blankets, curtains and reading lights.

Rochester told reporters that the boat operator has been "in full compliance." The company replaced the boat's heat detector in 2016 after a Coast Guard inspection, and the boat passed its inspections last February and in August 2018. The National Transportation Safety said it is investigating.