Burning Dive Boat Off California Spurs Ongoing Rescue Effort

Sep 2, 2019
Originally published on September 4, 2019 9:22 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Photos posted by the Ventura County Fire Department in California hint at a nightmare just off the Pacific coast. The pictures show a dive boat. Steps at the stern, the back of the boat, lead down toward the water. It's nighttime in these photos, and the only light comes from the flames sweeping across the deck. One image of this fire also shows a Ventura County firefighter nearby. Brian McGrath is with the Ventura County Fire Department. He's on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

BRIAN MCGRATH: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How and when did you first learn of the trouble?

MCGRATH: We were - responded out just at 3:28 this morning to Santa Cruz Island for a boat in distress. When we got out there, we saw that the boat was fully involved, and we immediately went into rescue mode and extinguishment of the fire.

INSKEEP: Now, when you say fully involved, that is clear from the photos that you folks have posted on Twitter. There are flames everywhere. There doesn't even seem to be that much left of the boat.

MCGRATH: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Who was on it?

MCGRATH: The boat was out of Santa Barbara Harbor, and we're still getting - working on getting a manifest for how many souls were on board. We were able to make five rescues, one of which had a moderate injury, which are being transported in now with an assisting vessel.

INSKEEP: You just said five people were rescued. That sounds good. It sounds like you don't know exactly how many people were on board. But is it your impression that there are more than five, that some people are unaccounted for?

MCGRATH: There are a lot of people unaccounted for, yes.

INSKEEP: A lot, like dozens?

MCGRATH: Yes.

INSKEEP: Was that a rather crowded boat, and what were they doing out at 3:28 a.m.? Is that normal?

MCGRATH: It's pretty normal. You want to make sure you get out there - charter a boat and get out to sea so you get a full day on the water.

INSKEEP: So what are you doing to try to locate the other individuals, and what is the current status of the pleasure boat or the diving boat?

MCGRATH: Right now we are working with U.S. Coast Guard and doing a search of the water for any other surviving members, as well as the vessel that was on fire has sunk.

INSKEEP: It has sunk. So what we saw in the pictures, that is no more. It burned down to the waterline, and it's gone.

MCGRATH: That's correct. We were able to extinguish the fire before it got to the waterline, but a couple waves were able to succumb the boat.

INSKEEP: I gather you've got daylight to work with now, correct?

MCGRATH: That's correct.

INSKEEP: And so what are you able to do to try to learn if there are more survivors out there somewhere?

MCGRATH: We do have - usually working with the U.S. Coast Guard and airship to search the water as well as boat searches.

INSKEEP: Captain, I imagine it's something that you have to think about later on, but maybe you're already gathering information - have the survivors whom you have been able to save told you anything about what might have caused this fire or how it came to spread so quickly across the entire boat?

MCGRATH: No, we have not been able to make contact with them yet. They're still en route back. It's about an hour time to get to port.

INSKEEP: And you have plenty of boats to get out there to this sunken wreckage and also to get out there to try to find survivors?

MCGRATH: Working with the local - working with Coast Guard and other local resources, we have availability to get out there and search, yes.

INSKEEP: Have you ever had an experience like this?

MCGRATH: We - I have not, but the Ventura County Fire Department is trained to working with the local resources that - and mutual aid to mitigate any kind of problem that comes about.

INSKEEP: OK. Mr. McGrath, thank you so much.

MCGRATH: Thank you, Steve. Have a good day.

INSKEEP: Ben McGrath - Brian McGrath is with the Ventura County Fire Department in California, where he now tells us that a boat, a diving boat, has sunk - five survivors recovered, an unknown number of others still missing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.