Posted: 9:31 a.m. Monday, June 30, 2014

San Francisco abalone diver dies in underwater cave

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KTVU
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KTVU and AP Wires

MENDOCINO, Calif. —

A 50-year-old San Francisco man is believed to have died while abalone diving on the Mendocino County coast Sunday morning.

The man's body has not been recovered and his identity has not been released.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Sector Humboldt Bay's command center received a call around 9:30 a.m. Sunday about four divers who were exploring a cave when a strong swell injured one of the divers, Lt. Brian Ward said.

The three divers tried to recover the injured diver but strong waves forced them to leave the cave, Ward said.

The Elk Volunteer Fire Department searched the shoreline for the missing diver and the Coast Guard launched a helicopter from Sector Humboldt Bay and a lifeboat from Station Noyo River, Ward said.

The motorboat was unable to search the caves because of the dangerous surf along the rocky shoreline, according to Ward.

A swimmer from the Coast Guard's helicopter crew searched as far as safely possible in each of the caves in the area but did not locate the injured diver, Ward said.

Rescue divers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Elk Volunteer Fire Department also searched the caves before returning to their bases, Ward said.

Elk Fire Department Assistant Chief Bob Matson said the missing diver is a 50-year-old San Francisco man and the man's family is aware of his presumed death.

Matson said one of the three divers said they realized the diver was in distress and tried to perform CPR in the back of the U-shaped cave but had to leave because of waves that were rushing into both openings of the cave.

The tide was low but northwest winds created the strong surf, Matson said.

"They shouldn't have been in the ocean," Matson said. "The problem is people drive so far to get here and they go in the water regardless of what the ocean is doing," Matson said.

Three divers have died on the Mendocino County coast in the last two months during the current abalone season, Matson said.

The three divers said the San Francisco man was dead when they left the cave, Matson said.

John Ross, also an assistant chief with the Elk Fire Department, said all of the divers are from San Francisco. One said the missing diver hit his head on a rock and was knocked unconscious.

The search for the diver ended at 3 p.m. Sunday and "the ocean is no better this morning," Matson said.

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