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At Least 8 People Are Dead And Dozens More Missing In A California Boat Fire

“I can’t breathe,” said one man in a mayday call picked up by the US Coast Guard.

Last updated on September 3, 2019, at 8:36 a.m. ET

Posted on September 2, 2019, at 7:47 p.m. ET

Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department

The diving boat Conception, ablaze in the early hours of Monday morning.

At least 8 people are dead and 26 others missing after a fire broke out on a 75-foot commercial diving boat off the coast of Southern California early Monday.

Santa Barbara officials later confirmed "additional victims were received" but did not provide any additional details.

Many of the divers aboard the boat, identified as the Conception, were thought to be sleeping below decks when the fire broke out.

At about 3:30 a.m., US Coast Guard officials overheard a mayday call from the Conception, which was moored 20 yards off the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island. “I can't breathe," the caller said.

At least four bodies were pulled from the water Monday and another four were located on the sea floor, authorities said.

“This is probably the worst-case scenario you could possibly have,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

“The four victims we have recovered as of now will have to be identified through DNA, and that may take some time,” Brown added.

Divers will keep searching through the night, US Coast Guard Los Angeles-Long Beach Sector Commander Captain Monica Rochester told the press conference. But hopes of finding any survivors appear dim.

“We all should be prepared to move into the worst outcome,” Rochester said.

Five crew members who were awake when the fire started did manage to jump off the boat, and were rescued by a pleasure boat, the Grape Escape. One suffered minor injuries.

Crews from the Santa Barbara and Ventura County fire departments were still fighting the blaze when the boat sank in 64 feet of water around 7:20 a.m..

#CoastInc: @VCFD responded to boat fire off the north side of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 3:28am. @USCG helping support rescue operations for people aboard a dive boat. #ChannelIslands @USCGLosAngeles @CountyVentura @SBCOUNTYFIRE

The stricken boat Conception was operated by Truth Aquatics, which runs a small fleet from Santa Barbara Harbor, taking divers out to the Channel Islands National Park. The Conception departed for the Channel Islands on Saturday and was supposed to return on Tuesday morning.

Santa Cruz Island is about 20 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara and is the largest of eight Channel Islands. It is owned by The Nature Conservancy and National Park Service, and mostly uninhabited.

The boat had no safety violations at its last annual inspection. "The vessel has been in full compliance," Rochester said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed his condolences to the families of victims in a post on Twitter.

“Our hearts are with the families and loved ones affected by this tragic incident," he said. "As we wait to hear more, we are eternally grateful for our heroic first responders that are on site — working to ensure every individual is found.”

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