25 bodies found off California coast

(GLOBAL NEWS) – Divers searched for more bodies early on Tuesday around the wreck of a boat destroyed by a blaze off the coast of southern California, as authorities launched an investigation into one of the area’s worst maritime disasters.

Emergency crews found at least 25 bodies after the fire broke out before dawn on Monday, leaving nine people still missing, the Associated Press reported. The coastguard declined to confirm the figures.

“We are looking for bodies now,” said Santa Barbara Fire Department spokeswoman Amber Anderson.

READ MORE: Eight dead, 26 missing after diving boat catches fire in California: U.S. Coast Guard

Flames ripped through the scuba diving vessel Conception, as it was moored off Santa Cruz Island, trapping the passengers below deck. Five of the six-strong crew managed to escape in an inflatable boat, but no one else has been found.

The boat sank later in the morning and was currently lying upside down under more than 60 feet (18 meters) of water, police said.

Witnesses reported hearing a number of explosions, but authorities said it was too early to say what caused the fire. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on Monday scuba or propane tanks on the Conception may have blown up in the flames.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board said it had sent a team of engineers and fire specialists to investigate the blaze.

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