33 bodies from California boat fire recovered; 1 missing

Sept. 4 (UPI) — The bodies of 33 people who died in a boat fire off the coast of California have been recovered, authorities said Wednesday.

One person was missing after crews recovered the remains of 20 people Monday and an additional 13 bodies off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Tuesday, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office Lt. Brian Olmstead said.

The 33 passengers and one crew member were asleep below the deck of the Conception dive boat when the fire began early Monday morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for the victims Tuesday, announcing all were presumed dead.

Crews continued efforts to recover the final body Wednesday. Olmstead said the dozens of divers who have participated in the search have returned “emotionally drained” after surveying the 65-foot-deep waters for hours at a time.

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

Investigators from the National Transport Safety Board and the FBI were examining the Vision, the Conception’s sister ship, which is larger but has a similar layout.

Marjorie Murtagh Cooke, former director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety, said the investigators will look to answer various questions including why no one below the deck escaped the blaze.

“Vessels have to have two exits for escape by law for the sleeping quarters,” Cooke said. “It appears that both exits from the sleeping quarters bring you up inside the vessel.”

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