Dramatic Mayday Call Reveals Chaos on Burning California Boat: 'There's No Escape Hatch'

Conception burning
Santa Barbara County Fire Department

In a desperate mayday call made from a burning boat off the coast of California Monday, a man said there was no escape hatch for dozens of passengers below deck.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday! Conception ... north side of Santa Cruz,” a man said on the call.

After the 75-foot diving vessel, Conception, caught fire off Santa Cruz Island early Monday, 34 people were reported missing and are feared dead. Five crew members were awake and managed to jump to safety.

The mayday call, which was released in part on Monday evening, was made around 3:15 a.m., The Los Angeles Times reported.

"I can't breathe," the caller told the dispatcher.

He later added, "There’s 33 people on board the vessel that’s on fire. They can’t get off."

The dispatcher is heard asking the man questions about the passengers sleeping under the deck.

"Can you get back on board and unlock the boat?" the dispatcher asks. "There's no escape hatch for any of the people on board?"

The dispatcher is also heard asking, "You don't have any firefighter gear at all? No fire extinguishers or anything?"

The man tells the dispatcher at one point, "Roger, and there's no escape hatch for any of the people on board."

The fire is believed to have broken out while passengers were sleeping in bunks beneath deck.

On Tuesday, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll told NBC News authorities have found what they believe to be the remains of 25 people. The recovered remains still need to be examined by the coroner, and "numbers may change," he said.

At least nine people are still unaccounted for. None of the victims have been identified.

Rescuers had responded to the scene around 3:30 a.m. Monday.

"The only mayday call we received was the vessel was engulfed in flames. That's all we received," said Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester at a press conference Monday.

"The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge and they jumped off," Rochester added. Five crew members were then rescued by another vessel.

Ventura County FD
Ventura County FD

Conception is owned by Truth Aquatics, a boat rental company, CBS LA reported. A CBS LA employee, Darla Fletcher, who has taken multiple trips with the company, told the channel that divers sleep below deck.

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

She only had praise for the company, calling them "just an amazing group of people."

At this stage it is not known was caused the fire, which occurred when the boat was anchored off Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz Island is south of Santa Barbara and west of Los Angeles.

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