September 6, 2019 / 6:30 PM / 2 months ago

Nine of 34 victims of California boat fire identified by authorities

Sept 6 (Reuters) - Nine of the 34 people killed when they were trapped below deck on a dive ship that caught fire and sank off the California coast were publicly identified by authorities on Friday.

So far, 33 of the badly charred bodies have been recovered, with a search ongoing for the final missing body, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference.

“Salvage of the vessel is underway and divers will search areas that so far have been inaccessible,” Brown said.

The 75-foot (23-metre) Conception caught fire at about 3:15 a.m. on Monday while anchored off Santa Cruz Island, killing 33 passengers and a crew member in one of California’s worst maritime disasters. The passengers had signed up for a three-day scuba diving trip aboard the boat, and were sleeping below deck along with a crew member when the fire broke out.

Rapid DNA analysis has been used to positively identified 18 of the bodies. Next of kin of nine of those bodies were notified.

Authorities released the names of those nine victims, who ranged in age from 26 to 62, and were residents of California or Tennessee.

DNA identification of the remaining victims is continuing now that officials have gotten DNA samples from family members of all 34 victims, whose names were on the boat’s manifest, Brown said.

The final relative to be reached was a mother in Japan, and DNA swabs were gathered from relatives as far away as Singapore and from family members who flew to California from India, he said. (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Marguerita Choy)

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