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34 confirmed dead in California boat fire, investigation underway
From:Xinhua  |  2019-09-06 18:25

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by Xinhua writer Tan Jingjing

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- Local authorities confirmed Thursday that 34 people died in the dive boat fire off the Southern California coast early Monday.

Thirty-three bodies have been recovered. Search crews are still working to recover the remains of the last victim whose body had not yet been pulled from the water, said Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Gina DePinto.

The remains have to be identified through DNA testing. Names of the passengers have not been released by the authorities yet. The investigation into the cause of the deadly fire, which fully engulfed the ship in minutes, is underway from Tuesday.

Possible ignition sources include the electrical system, photography equipment, batteries, cameras and phones that were plugged in and charging when the fire broke out, said U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Jennifer Homendy.

"We are not ruling anything out at this point," she said.

The NTSB will release a preliminary report in 10 days on the cause, and a final report could take one to two years to release, Homendy said, noting that it will be a "very lengthy, detailed, comprehensive investigation."

Of the 39 people on board, five crew members, who was awake and jumped overboard, survived the fire and were rescued.

The surviving crew members rushed to get to the 34 people sleeping below, they told local media. They first attempted to go through the double doors leading to the galley, but were pushed back by fierce flames, and then went to the front of the boat and tried to break through its windows. When that did not work, they ultimately had to look out for their own safety, according to media reports.

"At some point because of heat, smoke and fire they had to jump off the boat," Homendy said.

Efforts to recover the dive boat continued Thursday off the Southern California coast. Sergeant Garrett TeSlaa with the dive team of Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office said the team was working to recover the wreckage along the coastline and in caves in the area.

Homendy said the removal of the wreckage to a secure area may take time to ensure that it is not further damaged in transport.

"We want to ensure that the vessel is raised intact," she said. "That's our main focus."

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 local authorities.