California boat fire – what happened and how many people have been killed off Santa Cruz island?

A DIVING boat burst into flames off the coast of California in the early hours of Monday morning.

It is believed that 39 people were on board, 34 of which remain "unaccounted" for after the inferno tore through the upper deck near Santa Cruz island.

What happened?

The 75ft Conception boat was hosting a £550-a-head diving trip for the US labour day weekend.

At around 3.15am, flames burst out and the vessel caught fire.

Five crew members who were awake on the top deck – jumped into the water and escaped from the main cabin, including the ship's captain who suffered a broken leg

Emergency workers rushed to the scene with rescue boats and a helicopter, however they were unable to board the vessel due to the intensity of the blaze.

Coastguard chief Aaron Bemis said: "The report we got was they were trapped by the fire.

"The fire was so intense that even after it was put out, we're not able to actually embark the vessel and, you know, look for survivors at this point. It's still ongoing."

How many people have been killed?

Captain Brian McGrath of the Ventura County Fire Department confirmed there are "some fatalities" but he could not give an exact number.

The 34 passengers who were on the lower deck currently remain unaccounted for.

The boat sank 20 yards offshore in 54-feet of water.

The US Coast Guard is checking to see if any survivors jumped off the boat or made it to the rocks.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department PIO Mike Eliason said: "We're still holding hope that someone may have swam to shore.

"When they anchor overnight they're pretty close to shore. We have to hope, but we plan for worst case scenario."

What was the boat doing?

Conception is described as having "a revised galley and bunk layout, including more double bunks, bathrooms, and shower" which makes it "ideal for large charter groups".

The trip's itinerary boasted of "gourmet cuisine" by a specially-trained chef and "delightful" night-time sea dives.

The Conception set out from Santa Barbara on Saturday and visited several diving spots around Santa Cruz Island.

It was set to return to shore today at 5pm.

The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the boat fire.

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