California scuba diving boat blaze leaves at least 25 dead

25 people have been confirmed while 9 have been declared missing after a fire broke out on a scuba diving vessel near the southern coast of California early Monday morning.

The fire was said to have started in the lower portion of the boat at around 3 a.m. (1030 UTC), while most of the people on board were asleep.

Scuba diving vessel is a 75-foot(20-meter) commercial diving boat which was on a three-day excursion.

It was anchored roughly 20 yards (18 meters) off the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island, some 140 kilometers (90 miles) west of Los Angeles.

Santa Cruz Island, part of California’s Channel Islands National Park, is a popular destination for divers due its underwater attractions, including colorful corals and large marine mammals.

Five crew members who were sleeping on the top deck managed to escape the blaze. “The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge and they jumped off,” said US Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester.

The crew members swam to the pleasure boat Grape Escape, which was anchored nearby, and were rescued.

Bob and Shirley Hansen, owners of the Grape Escape, told US daily The New York Times that the frightened crew members came on board as the dive boat was already in flames.

“I could see the fire coming through holes on the side of the boat. There were these explosions every few beats. You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous,” said Bob Hansen.

“The fire was too big, there was absolutely nothing we could do,” he added.

How the fire began remains unclear, authorities said.The US Coast Guard (USCG) has since deployed helicopters, small boats and a patrol cutter ship to the scene.

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