Search operations were suspended Tuesday for survivors of a scuba-diving boat disaster off the California coast after divers recovered 20 bodies and spotted another four to six trapped in underwater wreckage.
The remains of 11 women and nine men were transferred to coroner offices after the 75-foot (23-meter) Conception caught fire and sank Monday, trapping below-deck passengers beneath the roaring blaze.
“Today we will begin the process of mapping DNA profiles of the 20 victims that we have recovered so far, so that they can be compared with family samples,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference.
The boat had been on a diving excursion around Santa Cruz Island, just west of Santa Barbara in southern California, when disaster struck early Monday.
Five crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am. They were rescued by a nearby pleasure craft.
A total of 39 were on board, officials said, leaving 14 yet to be recovered and presumed dead.
Both a stairwell and an escape hatch leading down to the lower deck where passengers were sleeping appeared to have been blocked by the inferno, Brown said.
On Tuesday, emergency officials began attempts to stabilize the boat so that divers can safely enter it and retrieve remaining victims.
Mourners gathering at the Santa Barbara docks set up a makeshift memorial, attaching large, colorful bouquets of flowers and messages of condolences to a fence along the waterfront.
One photo of a young woman, surrounded by candles, contained the note “I Love you Allie,” while another card simply said: “Wishing you peace.”