Eerie photos show boat fire death traps

 

Divers on a boat that burst into flames in California were sleeping in tightly packed bunks when the inferno ripped through the cabin.

At least 25 bodies have been recovered and nine are still missing as rescuers desperately search for any survivors from the 23m-long Conception.

The yacht, which was on a diving expedition, was "fully engulfed" by the blaze in the early hours of Monday morning local time, just off Santa Cruz Island northwest of Los Angeles.

It has since emerged that passengers on the vessel were sleeping on the lower deck in bunk beds, according to a floor plan of the boat, The Sun reported.

 

The victims were sleeping in bunk beds on the lower deck when the fire erupted.
The victims were sleeping in bunk beds on the lower deck when the fire erupted.

 

Pictures from inside the Conception, owned by firm Truth Aquatics, show a narrow staircase leading to the galley.

Five of six crew members who were top deck on the bridge managed to escape as the fire took hold at around 3.15am.

It is still unclear how the inferno started, although there were propane tanks on-board that could have exploded, as well as a built-in barbecue, authorities said.

 

Photos reveal the tight sleeping quarters for people on-board.
Photos reveal the tight sleeping quarters for people on-board.

 

Passengers were trapped in the cabin below deck.
Passengers were trapped in the cabin below deck.

 

In a news conference, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the victims would have been asleep when the blaze started.

"You couldn't have asked for a worse situation," he said.

"You have a vessel in the open sea that is in the middle of the night.

"The sleeping compartment was on the bottom deck of the ship. They would have been sound asleep when this fire started."

 

The boat sank after the blaze. Picture: Capt. Paul Amaral/TowBoatUS Ventura via AP
The boat sank after the blaze. Picture: Capt. Paul Amaral/TowBoatUS Ventura via AP

 

Firefighters arrive at the scene of the burning boat off Santa Cruz Island. Picture: Ventura County Fire Department
Firefighters arrive at the scene of the burning boat off Santa Cruz Island. Picture: Ventura County Fire Department

 

It is still not clear whether negligence played a role in the fire starting, the New York Times reported. It is understood the vessel was in full compliance.

Investigators said a single mayday call came from the boat, which was around 145km northwest of Los Angeles at the time the blaze started.

A recording of the ship's mayday call released yesterday reveals how the passengers were trapped below deck "with no escape hatch".

 

Ventura County Fire Department try to put out the blaze. Picture: Ventura County Fire Department via AP
Ventura County Fire Department try to put out the blaze. Picture: Ventura County Fire Department via AP

 

Police and search and rescue teams help retrieve bodies. Picture: AP/Christian Monterrosa
Police and search and rescue teams help retrieve bodies. Picture: AP/Christian Monterrosa

 

The harrowing recording features a Coast Guard operator first frantically asking for information on the emergency off southern California.

The operator says: "What is the emergency? Over. Conception, what is the emergency? Over."

A man who later identifies himself as the captain responds: "On board a vessel on fire."

"Your vessel is on fire? Roger. Are you aboard the Conception?", the Coast Guard worker asks.

The captain confirms he is from the vessel and says: "There's 33 people on board the vessel on fire. They can't get off.

 

Kristy Finstad was among the people on-board.
Kristy Finstad was among the people on-board.

"There's no escape hatch for any of the people on-board."

The Coast Guard worker is then heard putting out a general distress call.

He says he's "received a report of a vessel on fire with 33 people, correction, 34 people, trapped below deck".

"Any vessel in the area that can rend any assistance, please do so," the worker says.

Emergency rescuers rushed to the scene with boats and a helicopter in the early hours of Monday morning.

 

Among the victims were a family of three - including a 17-year-old girl - reportedly celebrating a birthday.

A weeping survivor told the owners of a rescue boat that they had celebrated with the girl and her two parents just hours earlier.

Also missing is a marine biologist who was described by family as a "free spirit". Kristy Finstad, 41, of Santa Cruz, California, was among the divers helping to lead the $625-a-head expedition aboard the Conception.

 

 

Her heartbroken brother, Brett Harmeling, 31, posted a message on Facebook that read: "Please pray for my sister Kristy!! She was leading a dive trip on this boat."

He later told the New York Daily News: "We're still waiting to hear, unfortunately. It's not looking good."

Ms Finstad helped organise the trip with her husband, Dan Chua, through their family-owned company, Worldwide Diving Adventures.

The boat - owned and operated by Santa Barbara firm Truth Aquatics - was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures.

 

James Miranda of Santa Barbara takes a moment to reflect at a dock near the Sea Landing at Santa Barbara Harbour as hopes of finding survivors diminish. Picture: AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu
James Miranda of Santa Barbara takes a moment to reflect at a dock near the Sea Landing at Santa Barbara Harbour as hopes of finding survivors diminish. Picture: AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu

 

Mr Chua was not on the doomed vessel and was instead leading a separate diving expedition in Costa Rica, Mr Harmeling said.

"She's done this trip hundreds of times," the distraught brother said, adding he is still holding out hope for his strong sister.

"She'd be the person who could make it if it's possible," he said.

"She could hold her breath for an insane amount of time. It just doesn't sound like there was a chance for anyone to get out.

 

FBI and Coast Guard have been involved in the search operation. Picture: AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu
FBI and Coast Guard have been involved in the search operation. Picture: AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu

 

"She's a very strong, strong woman … but they've been searching for a long time already."

The Conception, which was launched in 1981, embarked for California's Channel Islands on Saturday morning, local time, with 39 people on-board.

Authorities are trying to determine the best way to recover the sunken vessel, including the possibility of towing it to shore.

Sheriff Brown said eight bodies had been found on the ocean floor and in the area of the boat, which lies upside down under more than 18m of water.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission