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Search Called Off For Victims Of Dive Boat Fire In Channel Islands; 20 Deaths Confirmed

(Ventura County Fire Department photo)
Firefighters battle the blaze on the Conception early Monday morning

Coast Guard officials say they've made the tough decision to suspend the search for possible survivors of a deadly excursion boat fire in the Channel Islands, with efforts now focused on recovering the bodies of those who died in the disaster.

39 people were on board the Santa Barbara based ship, the Conception.  20 bodies have been recovered, and 14 people are still missing.  Five people survived the early morning Monday blaze.

Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester says going from a search and rescue to a recovery mission was a difficult decision, but with no sign of additional survivors, it was time to take the action.  The search was officially ended at 9:40 Tuesday morning.

Dive teams from public safety agencies through the region are helping in recovery efforts.  Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown says in addition to the 20 bodies recovered, teams spotted an additional four to six bodies, but were unable to immediately get to them

The crew of the 75 foot long boat reported the craft was on fire at around 3;30 Monday morning.  Five crew members were awake and on deck at the time.  They were forced to jump into the water by the fast moving blaze, but survivved.  A sixth crew member is among the missing.

Brown says identifying the remains could take time, because DNA testing may be necessary in many cases.