A Bay Area attorney who was among three abalone divers who perished in powerful waves surging into Caspar Cove on Sunday reportedly had previous diving experience upon which others in his party may have been relying for guidance, according to continuing disclosures about the tragedy.
Survivors of the accident told Mendocino County sheriff’s personnel that Tae Won Oh, 49, of Dublin organized the trip for several out-of-state guests and was considered an experienced diver, though how much mastery of the sport he had developed remains in question, sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten said.
It apparently was enough to inspire confidence in the party he led into the water that day, however, so much so that a woman with the group waved off warnings from a passing fisherman about clearly hazardous conditions.
Local resident Steve Szychowski, who has fished in the cove for some 30 years, said it was “scary” how readily she dismissed him as she stood atop the bluff 50 to 80 feet above the roiling water where three divers already were bobbing and two more were preparing to get in.
“The water was just horrible,” Szychowski, 60, recalled Tuesday. “I mentioned to her this was not a day a local person would dive in the water. There was no visibility, and it was just senseless.”
But the woman seemed giddy with the prospect of fresh abalone for dinner and assured him one man in the party “knew how to dive, and he was going to help everybody else, apparently, get their abalone on one of the roughest days down there.”
Szychowski did not speak with three other women staged halfway down the cliff face or with the divers on the rocks below, where those still getting into the water were clearly hesitant, he said.
But he repeatedly urged the woman to have the group abandon its plans because of water that was “rougher than I’ve seen in many winter storms” in the cove, located on the central Mendocino Coast near Fort Bragg. He then walked around the point and found a different place to drop his line.
Authorities said the divers were overwhelmed instantly by the forceful waves rushing into the inlet, near the end of the point on the southern edge of the cove.
Hyun Kook Shin, an Atlanta-area real estate broker who had met Oh through a commercial land transaction, was one of those who encountered trouble and called for help, according to accounts from the scene conveyed to his family.
Though he had extensive experience with diving and spearfishing in the Gulf of Mexico, he was not familiar with Pacific Coast conditions, family members said.
Two other people helped him to a rock when he found himself in trouble Sunday, but he was swept away to his death by additional waves, his sister said. He was to celebrate his 50th birthday on Tuesday.
The third victim was identified as Aaron Kim, 53, of Fort Lee, N.J., described as a longtime friend and business associate of Shin’s.
Two other men were rescued, uninjured, from the rocks to which they clung for dear life, authorities said.
Shin’s sister said Oh’s invitation to vacation and dive on the Mendocino Coast was extended to Shin’s wife and several other friends.