A massive search and rescue operation utilising helicopters and naval cutters is currently underway in California after fire engulfed a dive boat in the early hours of this morning, leaving 34 people missing.

According to a press release from the US Coastguard, the Los Angeles/Long Beach sector overheard a mayday call via Channel 16 at 3.15am stating that the 22-metre dive boat Conception was on fire near Santa Cruz Island.

Crews from the Coastguard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist rapidly responded, and the fire departments present were busy battling the fierce blaze when the vessel sank some 20 metres offshore in 20m of water, with just a portion of the bow sticking up above the surface.

Of the 39 people onboard, the five crew escaped aboard a ‘good Samaritan’ pleasure craft, The Grape Escape, with the captain breaking his leg, but that leaves the other 34 people aboard the Conception  – part of a fleet of vessels operated by Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics for charter trips to the Channel Islands National Park – unaccounted for. There are reports of fatalities, but no official death toll so far, and it is feared the passengers may have been trapped below deck given the fire broke out in the middle of the night.

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