Santa Barbara, California – Thirty three bodies of victims from a scuba diving boat fire off Southern California have been recovered and one was still missing on Wednesday, authorities said. The new count of confirmed deaths came after officials recovered 13 bodies on Tuesday, said Coast Guard Lt. Zach Farrell, a spokesman for the inter-agency joint information center in Santa Barbara representing local, county, state and federal officials involved in the case.
Authorities had previously said that 34 people were presumed dead after Monday’s pre-dawn fire engulfed the boat named Conception as the victims slept below decks near the island of Santa Cruz during a three-day scuba diving excursion.
Five crew members, including the captain, managed to escape. The vessel eventually sank and overturned, making the recovery of bodies challenging.
The victims identified so far include high school students, a science teacher and his daughter, a marine biologist and a family of five celebrating a birthday. Domenic Selga told CBS News his mother, step-father and three step-sisters were among the victims.
“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 25-year-old daughter was also onboard.
“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.”
Officials have said the captain and four other crew members who survived jumped off the front of the vessel, swam to an inflatable boat at its stern and steered it to a ship anchored nearby. But flames moved so quickly through the 75-foot (23-meter) vessel that it blocked a narrow stairway and an escape hatch leading to the upper decks, giving those below virtually no chance of escaping, authorities said.
DNA will be needed to identify all the victims.