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20 bodies recovered, 14 missing in California dive boat fire

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-15 17:05:58|Editor: Xiang Bo
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by Xinhua Writers Tan Jingjing, Gao Shan

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 3 (Xinhua) -- A total of 20 bodies have been recovered and 14 others are still missing as of Tuesday morning after a tragic boat fire early Monday off the Santa Cruz Island in Southern California, authorities told a press briefing.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the remains of the 20 victims, 11 female and nine male, have been identified.

In addition, rescue divers saw the bodies of four to six victims in the wreckage, but they can not be recovered before nightfall due to the positioning of the boat, Brown said.

"Today, efforts will be made to stabilize the boat, so that divers can safely enter it, search and recover additional victims," he said.

No additional survivors have been found in the tragic accident, he said. Five crew members, who had been awake and jumped overboard, survived the devastating fire, and were rescued and transported to Ventura Harbor on Monday.

39 people were on board at the time of the accident.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) suspended search efforts as of 9:40 a.m. (1640 GMT) Tuesday, pending further development, said Monica Rochester, USCG Los Angeles-Long Beach sector commander.

"It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts," she said. "We know this is a very difficult time for families and friends of the victims."

Asked if the called-off search was an indication that the Coast Guard believed all persons on the boat but the five crew members who escaped were deceasd, Rochester said "that would be a correct assumption."

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Jennifer Homendy said the federal agency started its investigation at 10 a.m. (1700 GMT) Tuesday. The team of 16 investigators specializes in engineering, operations, survival factors and fire prevention.

The team will be on site for seven to ten days and will work closely with the USCG and first responders.

"The NTSB is leading this safety investigation," she said, noting investigators want to find out the fire's cause and what can be done to prevent similar accidents.

Investigators will examine crew training, safety records, survival factors and whether the boat had life jackets and other safety gear.

The NTSB could release a preliminary report within 10 days of the accident, but a final report could take two years, according to Homendy.

Coast Guard crews have conducted seven missions including helicopter cruises as far as approximately 160 miles from the site in the search for survivors, according to Rochester.

The process of identifying the victims and notifying their families is underway.

"Family assistance and call centers today received over 100 calls from families and friends who believed their loved ones were on board the boat," Brown said.

Investigators are comparing the information from the callers with the vessel's passenger list, he said.

Since many of the victims recovered will need to be identified through DNA analysis, investigators will work with family members of the victims to collect DNA samples for comparison purposes, Brown said.

The boat was on a three-day diving trip when it caught fire early Monday morning. It departed from Santa Barbara at 4 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Saturday for a diving excursion, and was scheduled to return on Tuesday morning, according to Brown.

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