A rescuer from the Henry 1 helicopter at the site of the rescue and recovery on Sunday, April 12, 2015. Credit: Sonoma County Search And Rescue, FriendsofHenry1.org

A rescuer from the Henry 1 helicopter at the site of the rescue and recovery on Sunday, April 12, 2015. Credit: Sonoma County Search And Rescue, FriendsofHenry1.org

Three divers on the Mendocino coastline braved challenging ocean conditions and ended up losing their lives in the first fatalities of the 2015 abalone season.

The Fire Department was called to the Caspar Cove area at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, reportedly by an off-duty firefighter who was fishing in the area and saw the divers in distress. A rescue boat picked up two divers who were conscious and breathing who were able to walk on their own once ashore.

Caspar Cove is a popular dive site, located about 5 miles South of Fort Bragg on Highway 1, on the south side of the Cabrillio River Bridge.

The beautiful, rugged coastline near Mendocino

The beautiful, rugged coastline near Mendocino

Farther out, rescuers found a motionless diver floating in the water. CPR was administered, but the diver was pronounced dead, according to Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Sally Swan. Another diver was then spotted in a rocky area along the coast, but rescuers couldn’t reach him. A helicopter crew eventually airlifted his body out, but he too was pronounced dead.  Fire officials along with the U.S. Coast Guard searched for the fifth diver and around 8 p.m. in a small cove.

The third victim was the subject of a prolonged search that continued into the evening involving a Coast Guard helicopter crew out of Station Humboldt Bay and a 47-foot motor lifeboat out of Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, said Lt. John Briggs.

Two of the victims were identified Monday as 49-year-old Tae Won Oh of Dublin and Hyun Kook Shin, 49, of Suwanee, Ga.. A 53-year-old man from Fort Lee, N.J., also died, but was not immediately identified pending notification of his family.

“This is a treacherous area on some days, and today the conditions were just very dynamic,” Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department Captain Swan said, noting that the waves and tide near the cove’s rocky, sandy beach can be violent.

The men were the first casualties of this year’s abalone season, which opened less than 2 weeks ago on April 1st.

Sonoma Divers Also Needed Rescues

The Mendocino-area divers aren’t the only ones to have problems in the water this weekend. On Saturday, Sonoma Coast State Park lifeguards made two rescues, including one in which two men diving near Stump Beach offshore of Salt Point State Park got caught in a rip current and were tossed into the rocks by heavy waves. Two lifeguards saw them and swam out to get them, bringing them safely into shore.

Also on Saturday, a lifeguard saw three divers clinging to a swamped kayak about 500 yards off Ocean Cove, south of Salt Point park. They had been diving together when they became distressed and were brought ashore on a personal watercraft, he said.

Divers are reminded that abalone diving is an extremely physically demanding activity and requires both great fitness and good diving skills to safely dive for them. Conditions need to be very carefully evaluated, and dives should be aborted if there is any question as to whether or not they are safe to dive in. Even those traveling from a distance should always be ready to abort their dive plans and stay safely ashore, and exit the water the moment they feel that the conditions are not within their skills and fitness levels. Throughout the season, there are many, many days where no divers should enter the water at all.

Story by Chris Constantine, California Diver Magazine

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Editor’s note: Most dive magazines and related publications do not report fatalities, however we feel that in certain cases it’s important to share these incidents as a way to help other divers make better decisions and stay safer in the water. We would of course prefer that there are no dive accidents or fatalities, however we can learn to be better safer divers ourselves if we learn and understand what took place with these divers in questions. If you have any feedback on our approach to this, please share in the comments below or drop us an email at info@californiadiver.com. Thanks.