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25 killed, nine missing in charter boat fire off California

The burned-out charter dive boat “Conception” just before sinking near the coast of Ventura County. Courtesy of the Ventura County Fire Department.

The burned-out charter dive boat “Conception” just before sinking near the coast of Ventura County. Courtesy of the Ventura County Fire Department.

Twenty-five people were killed Monday morning and nine more were missing after a charter boat off of Santa Cruz island caught on fire.

At 3:15 a.m., the U.S. Coast Guard and Ventura County Fire Department crews responded to a mayday call that the Conception, a 75-foot-long charter dive boat carrying 39 people, had broken out into flames, according to CBS2 News.

Coast guard officials said in a press conference Monday that 39 people were aboard, included six crew members and 33 passengers. The U.S. Coast Guard has not released identities for any of the 25 victims recovered from the water and said that the number must be confirmed by a coroner.

Five surviving crew members, who were above deck rather than in the cabins belowdeck, jumped off the burning boat and were rescued by a good Samaritan’s boat called The Grape Escape. The crew’s quarters were on the top deck, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bob Hansen told NBC News that he and his wife were in their boat, The Grape Escape, in a cove about 400 yards away at the time of the fire and helped the captain and four crew members who managed to escape.

Hansen said one of the crewmen had what appeared to be a broken leg, and another said his girlfriend was on board and did not make it off, Hansen said. They were clearly distraught, with some crying, he said.

“They felt so helpless. They said that with everything — so much on fire — so much that they just couldn't get to them,” Hansen said

CBS2 confirmed that Conception is owned by Truth Aquatics, a boat rental service based out of Santa Barbara. Built in Long Beach, the boat was launched in 1981 and has a maximum capacity of 46 people, according to the website.

Experienced diver and CBS employee Darla Fletcher said he has taken several diving trips with Truth Aquatics, and said that the divers’ quarters belowdeck are cramped.

“Typically, the crew members will sleep up top, they’re not gonna sleep down there with the divers,” Fletcher said. “Especially on a full boat like this weekend, there were probably divers filling every possible bunk.”

Truth Aquatics has been running charters since 1974, and has earned a good reputation among customers including actor Rob Lowe, who tweeted his condolences on Monday and mentioned he had been on the boat “many times.”

“They’re a great company to dive with,” Fletcher said. “They take care of you. All their crew members are always looking out for you. They are just an amazing group of people.”

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