Officials: 33 Bodies Recovered After California Boat Fire, 1 Still Missing

September 4, 2019 Updated: September 4, 2019

The bodies of 33 victims who were on a California diving boat have been recovered, and one person is still missing.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Coast Guard officials made the announcement on Sept. 4. The boat, which was anchored on Santa Cruz Island, caught on fire on Labor Day.

When the fire broke out, 39 people were on board. Five crew members who were awake jumped overboard and swam to a nearby vessel.

Officials said the passengers and a sixth crew member were asleep below the deck and got trapped by the flames, the LA Times reported.

A man places flowers at a memorial wall near the Truth Aquatics moorings where the boat that burned and sank off the Santa Cruz islands early in the morning, was based in Santa Barbara, California on Sept. 2, 2019. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Officials said that the boat eventually sank and overturned, making the recovery more daunting, CBS News reported.

The names of the victims were not officially revealed.

Domenic Selga told CBS News that his mother, step-father, and three step-sisters died.

“They were down there in those small bunks, those really small bunks … to have no escape … It was something that was playing in my head,” Selga said. “It was just a complete nightmare.”

Cherie McDonough said her daughter, 25, was on board.

“Never thought I would have to go through this,” she said. “She was just following her dreams. She loved it here and she loved the boat. She loved diving.”

A father, his wife, and their three daughters were also on board celebrating his birthday, KTXL in Sacramento reported.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr Matt Kroll said that some three-dozen divers partook in the recovery effort.

“Our priority is trying to find the last victim and also items that would be of interest to find out what happened,” he told the LA Times. “You want to bring closure to the families.”

California boat on fire
Firefighters work to extinguish a dive boat engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast on Sept. 2, 2019. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said there is now a federal investigation into the cause of the fire, adding she is “100 percent confident” the cause will be determined.

“With 30-plus people dying, the investigation could lead to changes in the way vessels are designed or protected depending on the findings,” Marjorie Murtagh Cooke, former director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety, told the paper.

On Sept. 4, a makeshift memorial was spotted for victims at the harbor where they died.

According to the LA Times, it included a copy of poem, “The Ocean,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which reads:

“The earth has guilt, the earth has care, 
Unquiet are its graves; 
But peaceful sleep is ever there, 
Beneath the dark blue waves.”

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