‘I Can’t Breathe’: Listen to Mayday Call From Boat That Caught Fire, Sunk Off Santa Cruz Island

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“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” a man is heard frantically yelling in a distress call coming from aboard the Conception early Monday morning. A fire was ripping through the dive boat that was carrying at least 30 passengers and six crew members on a scuba-diving Labor Day trip. “I can’t breathe” the man later says, his voice at times disappearing behind static. The mayday call alerted the U.S. Coast Guard about a fire aboard the Conception, which was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, about 20 yards off-shore. The passengers are believed to have been asleep below deck at the time, Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester said. The fire broke out about 3 a.m. and quickly engulfed the boat, which started sinking in about 64 feet of water as firefighters battled the blaze. At least 25 people have been confirmed dead, and the search continued Monday night for another nine people still missing, according to Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll. The rescue operation was suspended Tuesday after there were no signs of survivors. A person who appears to be a Los Angeles-Long Beach Coast Guard dispatcher can be heard answering the man’s desperate call. He asks for the boat’s GPS position several times. The sound disappears and is followed by static and unintelligible sounds. Someone else is heard saying they’ve heard the distress call. The dispatcher is then heard broadcasting to all mariners, reporting the boat in distress. Through the static, the man is heard again as he repeatedly says the Conception’s name and follows with, “a vessel on fire.” “Your vessel is on fire, is that correct?” the dispatcher replies. “Roger, there are 33 people on board the vessel that’s on fire and they can’t get off?” a man says. It’s unclear who’s speaking. “Roger, are they locked in the boat? Roger, can you get back on board and unlock the boat– unlock the doors so they can get off?” The person proceeds to ask the man questions about the fire and the crew, and whether he’s the captain and if they’re got any firefighting gear. But there was no response, or the released audio did not include the replies. “Roger, how far away are you from the boat right now? Are there any other vessels in that area that can help with firefighting?” a man asks. A short time later, seemingly on a different call, a U.S. Coast guard dispatcher can then be heard reporting 34 people trapped below deck on the burning boat. Someone else confirms that the captain is aboard the Grape Escape, good Samaritan’s boat, and that the fire is visible. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said calls came from the Grape Escape after the initial call from the Conception. “Roger, and there’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board,” an unidentified man then says. It appears the victims were trapped after the fire erupted, as the stairwell and escape hatch may have been blocked by the flames, according to the sheriff. Six crew members were on the boat, and five were awake on the bridge at the time of the fire, authorities said. The five jumped off and were able to use a dinghy to evacuate onto the Grape Escape. Two of them were injured. After the call, crews from the Coast Guard, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and Vessel Assist responded the burning boat. “We threw everything that we had available that can get on scene as soon as we could,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney told KTLA. The boat was scheduled to be on a Labor Day trip that started at the Santa Barbara Harbor on Friday night, then was expected to head to San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and the Santa Barbara islands before returning to the harbor at about 5 p.m. Monday, according to vacation website, Worldwide Diving Adventures.

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