Three abalone divers from San Jose found themselves in trouble on Tuesday, April 12, while diving for abalone. After they were rescued, they discovered that their troubles in the rough waters weren’t all they would have to face.
With large ocean swells, a strong outgoing tide, crashing waves and winds pushing 25 knots, the men launched their 10-foot long inflatable raft with a 2-horsepower motor into the Albion river. The three divers had originally numbered four – but one decided the conditions were too rough and jumped ship. He waited back at camp as the others departed into the rough conditions.
About 12:30 p.m., when the divers were more than three hours overdue, the friend who stayed behind called authorities for help, Mendocino County sheriff’s Lt. Greg Stefani said. An emergency dispatch was sent out to several agencies to aid three divers in distress. The Coast Guard had two helicopters in the area for training and both headed that way, joining volunteers from the two fire agencies, state officers and a sheriff’s deputy. The helicopter crew flying from Point Arena arrived first and found the divers in a bay, north of the river.
The men were standing on the beach, trapped between the crashing surf and the steep cliff. With help from rescuers, they hiked up the cliff and their raft was hoisted up with a winch from a Mendocino cliff rescue truck.
Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t the end of their troubles.
Lt. Joel Hendricks of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with state officers, issued multiple citations and warnings to the three men for numerous abalone violations, including over-picking. They reportedly had eight abalone on-hand, and admitted to having picked at least four more that were lost in the rough waters. A total of 12 would be three more than their legal share for the day. Citations for abalone violations can result in fines from $500 to $2,000 and higher, depending on the severity of the violation.
The men were identified by the Department of Fish and Wildlife as Tong Truong, 53, Tu Nguyen, 32, and 57-year-old Dong Tran. The men had been diving Monday and possibly Sunday as well, and were described as being experienced divers.
Emergency officials emphasize divers need to check online sites for information on weather and tide conditions to make a smart decision about whether to dive.