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'I can't breathe … . there's no escape hatch': Dramatic mayday call from California boat on fire

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 9/2/2019 By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times

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Video by KTLA-TV Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — In an SOS call alerting authorities to the fire aboard a boat in the Channel Islands off Ventura County early Monday, the caller said he could not breathe and that there was no escape hatch for those below the deck sleeping.

Coast Guard officials said four bodies have been recovered and up to 30 people are believed to be missing after a 75-foot commercial diving boat erupted in flames near the shoreline of Santa Cruz Island.

Those on board were thought to be sleeping below deck when the fire broke out in the predawn hours. Authorities continued their search Monday for possible survivors as the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s coroner office prepared for a mass casualty incident.

Here is a transcript of the call:

Man, around 3:15 a.m.: “Mayday, mayday, mayday! … Conception … north side of Santa Cruz.” (He’s broken up by static.)

Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach dispatcher asks position and number of people on board.

Man: “I can’t breathe.” … (garbled)

Dispatcher: “You have 29 persons on board and you can’t breathe? What is your current GPS position?”

(Another man calls in who heard the distress call and is over by Anacapa Island.)

There’s some garbled space and back-and-forth for a few minutes as dispatchers try to reach anyone from the boat.

a man talking on a cell phone: Mike Kohl waits at the gate of the Ventura County Coast Guard station on Sept. 2, 2019 for news of his brother Mike Kohl, age 58, who was a cook on the dive boat that caught fire and sank. At least 34 people are missing after a dive boat caught on fire and sank off of Santa Cruz Island on a dive trip. Five crew members who were awake and on deck survived.

Mike Kohl waits at the gate of the Ventura County Coast Guard station on Sept. 2, 2019 for news of his brother Mike Kohl, age 58, who was a cook on the dive boat that caught fire and sank. At least 34 people are missing after a dive boat caught on fire and sank off of Santa Cruz Island on a dive trip. Five crew members who were awake and on deck survived.
© Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS
A frantic man can be heard:

“Vessel Conception! Vessel Conception! Vessel Conception!” …

Dispatch: “Your vessel is on fire? Is that correct? … Are you on board the Conception?”

Man: “Roger, there’s 33 people that’s on board the vessel that’s on fire. They can’t get off.”

Dispatch: “Roger, are they locked inside the boat? Roger, can you get back on board and unlock the boat, unlock the door so they can get off? Roger, you don’t have any firefighting gear, no fire extinguishers or anything?”

Dispatch: “Roger, is this the captain of the Conception?”

Man: “Roger”

Dispatch: “Was that all the crew that jumped off?”

Man: “Roger”

Dispatch: “Is the vessel fully engulfed now?”

Man: “Roger, and there’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board.”

Five crew members were already awake and jumped off the boat, which was 20 yards offshore of the north side of Santa Cruz Island, according to Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester.

The five crew members were rescued by a good Samaritan boat, the Grape Escape, according to the agency. Two of them sustained leg injuries.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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