SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – At least 25 people are confirmed dead and nine others still missing after a tragic boat fire early Monday that occurred in open water off the California coast.

The dive-boat was carrying 39 people, six crew members and 33 passengers who were asleep on the bottom of the deck, when it became fully engulfed in flames during a recreational scuba diving trip.

Five crew members sleeping on the top deck jumped off and took a dinghy to safety. Two had minor injuries.

The crew members took their dinghy to a private fishing boat, The Grape Escape, that was anchored near the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. The boat’s owners said that two of the crew members went back to look for survivors but found no one. 

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll said at least 25 people died and the search will continue for the nine others still missing, according to the Associated Press. 

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At least 25 people are dead and nine are unaccounted for after a diving boat caught fire off Santa Cruz Island in California.
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He said five others have been found but not recovered because of unsafe conditions under the boat. Kroll said these numbers are based on initial reports and authorities are awaiting final counts from the autopsies.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department confirmed to USA TODAY Tuesday that more bodies were recovered during overnight rescue operations. More information on those operations was not immediately released. 

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Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said, “You couldn’t ask for a worse situation” than that of the deadly dive boat fire near Santa Cruz Island.
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“You couldn’t ask for a worse situation,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a Monday news conference.

Brown said the boat is currently upside down in relatively shallow water with receding tides that are moving the vessel around. A 3,000-foot temporary flight restriction has been established around it. Authorities said it was under discussion whether to tow the vessel to shore or examine it on site.

Meanwhile, authorities opened a family assistance center where counseling was being provided to relatives of those onboard. None of their names were immediately released.

At least two students and their parents, whom may have been aboard during the incident, were reportedly from Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, according to KCBSTV. 

“Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims and those yet missing, particularly those of our students,” Head of School Maria C. Reitano said in a statement sent to the Salinas Californian.

“Right now, our priority as a school community is to support our students, staff, and families.”

Authorities responded Monday to a 3:30 a.m. mayday call of a boat engulfed in flames off Santa Cruz Island, about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, the Coast Guard said at a news conference later that day.

“The call was garbled, it was not that clear, but we were able to get some information out of it to send vessels,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney.

Coast Guard crews, the Ventura County and Santa Barbara County fire departments, and Vessel Assist responded to the call regarding the 75-foot commercial diving vessel called Conception and operated by Truth Aquatics out of Santa Barbara Harbor.

The boat had been anchored in an area called Platts Harbor at Santa Cruz Island, part of the five-island Channel Islands National Park and technically a part of Santa Barbara County.

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Truth Aquatics, a Santa Barbara-based company was founded in 1974. It had been chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, which says on its website that it has been taking divers on such expeditions since the 1970s.

The names of the passengers on the boat were not available as of Monday evening. Truth Aquatics said the list of all the people aboard was in the hands of the Coast Guard.

Authorities said Monday afternoon they were still working to notify next of kin of those who died.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire. 

Rodriguez reported out of McLean, Virginia. Contributing: Cheri Carlson, Gretchen Wenner and Megan Diskin, Ventura County (California) Star; The Associated Press.