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Pair rescued unharmed after boat explodes in flames off La Jolla

Two boaters managed to escape safely Friday when the cabin cruiser they were aboard became engulfed in flames about three miles off the coast of La Jolla.

The 31-foot Maxum pleasure boat caught fire, possibly due to an electrical problem, shortly before 11 a.m., according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent a helicopter and a patrol vessel to assist.

The two occupants escaped unharmed in a dinghy as the blaze completely engulfed the vessel, sending a column of thick black smoke over the ocean, San Diego lifeguard Sgt. Mike Cranston said. A sailboat that happened to be in the

area picked them up a short time later, he said.

A crew in a lifeguard firefighting boat extinguished the flames. The gutted vessel, which had about 150 gallons of gasoline in its tank when it began burning, appeared to be a total loss but was still able to float, Cranston said.

A tow vessel will return the charred cabin cruiser to Dana Point, where it had been docked.

The boaters who fled the fire said a malfunctioning battery switch might have been to blame, according to Cranston. They had “topped off” the fuel tank before embarking on the ill-fated voyage, the sergeant added.