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Dozens Of Victims Feared Dead After Diving Boat Catches Fire In California


When a boat caught fire off the coast of Southern California Monday morning, 39 people were onboard. Today, the boat is gone. Five survivors are known to be on shore. And as for what happened, one of the few signs is a distress call made while the boat was on fire. Lieutenant Commander Matt Kroll joins us next. He's with the U.S. Coast Guard. He's in Santa Barbara. And welcome to the program, sir.

MATT KROLL: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: What can you tell us about rescue efforts? Or is rescue even the right word 24 hours later?

KROLL: Well, rescue efforts are continuing. We've had crews on scene overnight. The Coast Guard cutter Narwhal was on scene monitoring the entire area. We had multiple assets on the scene with Coast Guard and other agencies all day yesterday just trying to locate any survivors or any more information that we can get about this. The rescue efforts and searches are also going to continue into the morning as we get more sunlight to help with the search. So we still have hope that there is a possibility for survivors. But at this point in a search like this, you need to kind of balance optimism with realism that the longer it takes after an incident, the more that survivability decreases. And so we just need to be ready for our worst fears to come true in the next day or so as we learn more.

INSKEEP: And five people - five survivors have been found and that's the extent of it still at this point. Is that right?

KROLL: Yes. Five are were recovered initially as soon as our members got on scene, and then a couple remains were located yesterday throughout the day. We've continued to search to see if we can keep locating. So there still are a number of people unaccounted for, which is why we continue to search through the night and into this morning.

INSKEEP: Lieutenant Commander, I want to ask about a distress call that was made apparently during the fire. I'm looking at a transcript of it. And this is I guess a radio or phone call to the Coast Guard. It's hard to follow all of the words on here, but the Coast Guard person who's taking the call is talking to someone who seems to be off the boat at that point. It may be a member of the crew and the Coast Guard person says are they locked inside the boat. Can you get back on board and unlock the doors so they can get off? What happened there as best you can tell?

KROLL: Well, at this point, we don't really know exactly what happened. Our main concern is just trying to get our assets on scene to locate survivors. There will be a full investigation of this because we not only want to figure out what happened, we want to know how it happened so that we can learn from this to prevent future incidents from happening like this in future cases.

INSKEEP: But the Coast Guard person goes on to say, was it that all the crew jumped off? And now I know you don't know that that's the case. It's a question being posed on a recording. But of the five survivors, are they members of the crew?

KROLL: Yes. The five survivors picked up immediately were all members of the crew, and there's still a sixth member of crew that's unaccounted for. So not - the entire crew did not make it off yesterday as we know yet so far.

INSKEEP: What is the responsibility of a boat's crew for their passengers in a time of distress?

KROLL: Well, there's multiple requirements for - safety requirements that need to happen for an inspection to have a license to take passengers. And as far as we know, the last time they had their inspection, they were in compliance with regulations. And so that's what this investigation eventually is going to turn up is we're going to try to see if everything was followed according to plan.

INSKEEP: Oh, so there were - there's certain regulations, there's certain equipment, there's certain training, and as of the last inspection, they seemed to have it.

KROLL: Yes. They were in compliance as far as our records check are going so far. But, again, we'll do an investigation. The NTSB is arriving on scene yesterday and today, and so we'll continue to get that information out.

INSKEEP: Lieutenant Commander Kroll, thanks so much. I know you've been up most of the night.

KROLL: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: That's Matt Kroll of the United States Coast Guard in Santa Barbara, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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