MENDOCINO - A San Leandro man drowned Monday morning while rock picking abalone at the mouth of Jack Peters Creek just north of town, Mendocino County sheriff?s deputies said.

Leo Chen, 39, was with a group of friends about 9:30 a.m. when he apparently was swept from a rock in rough surf, said sheriff Lt. Rusty Noe. Noe said Chan?s body was later found floating in the water about 200 yards from where he was last seen near Jack Peters Creek.

Chen?s drowning was the first of the current abalone season, which opened April 1.

Noe said the seasonal quest for abalone along the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts typically attracts hundreds of out-of-towners, many unaware of how dangerous the ocean can be.

Noe said last year eight people died along the Mendocino Coast either diving or picking abalone from rocks pounded by ocean surf.

On Monday, Chen family members raced to notify nearby state park rangers of the missing man, who in turn quickly summoned a Coast Guard crew from Noyo Harbor at Fort Bragg.

When found Chen was unresponsive and efforts to revive him failed, said Noe. He was pronounced dead when the Coast Guard cutter returned to dock at Noyo.

Noe said official cause of death is pending an autopsy.