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Terrifying Mayday Call Captures Panic Aboard Burning California Boat

"Mayday, mayday, mayday... I can't breathe."

by Tim Marcin
Sep 3 2019, 12:55pm

The harrowing mayday call from the Conception — a California boat that caught fire early Monday morning, killing at least 25 people — reveals the panic and fear on board as the vessel was engulfed in flames.

In the recording, a man’s voice can be heard calling out “mayday, mayday, mayday” and telling the dispatcher, “I can’t breathe.” It’s hard to understand much more of what the caller says because of distortion.

But CNN noted you can hear the Coast Guard dispatcher asking these questions: "And there's 33 people on board the vessel that's on fire, they can't get off? ... Are they locked inside the boat? … Can you get back on board and unlock the boat, unlock the door so they can get off? ... You don't have any firefighting gear at all? No fire extinguishers or anything?"

The AP reported that 25 of the 39 people on board died in the blaze early Monday morning. Nine were still missing. Five crew members managed to escape. The boat was engulfed by flames at about 3:30 a.m., and most people would have been asleep. Bill Brown, the sheriff of Santa Barbara County, told reporters “you couldn’t have asked for a worse situation.”

READ: 34 missing and feared dead after scuba diving boat catches fire off California coast

“You have a vessel in the open sea that is in the middle of the night,” he said. “The sleeping compartment was on the bottom deck of the ship. They would have been sound asleep when this fire started.”

The cause of the fire is not yet known. A Coast Guard spokeswoman, Capt. Monica Rochester, said the boat had been in full compliance.

“It’s a very tragic event and we will search all the way through the night, into the morning. But I think we should all be prepared to move into the worst outcome,” she said at a press conference on Monday.

According to the New York Times, the five crew members who escaped were rescued by Bob and Shirley Hansen, who were on their fishing boat a few hundred yards away. One of the crew members appeared to have broken his leg. Two of the rescued crew reportedly went back to try to find escaped passengers but found no one.

“The fire was too big, there was absolutely nothing we could do,” Bob Hansen told the Times. “You never anticipate something like this. We just felt so helpless.”

Cover: In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a dive boat is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast, Monday morning, Sept. 2, 2019. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)