Abalone diver dies off Mendocino Coast

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A San Francisco man died Sunday while diving for abalone off the southern Mendocino Coast, authorities said.

The man, 56, was swimming out into the ocean to dive with a companion when he began struggling, said Greg Warner, South Coast Volunteer Fire Protection District chief.

The companion swam to his friend, yelled for help and began pulling the man toward the shore of Cooks Beach, about a quarter-mile away, Warner said. Emergency responders were called to the scene at about 12:50 p.m., according to Cal Fire.

Warner said his department does not have a rescue boat and that neither Sonoma County nor Cal Fire helicopters were available Sunday.

“We just didn’t have any aircraft,” he said.

Coast Guard officials in Fort Bragg said they were called to respond, but then called off because the divers were already out of the water.

It took about half an hour for the victim’s partner to swim him to shore, where emergency responders determined he had died, Warner said.

The victim and his partner had been diving the day before and reportedly had no problems, Warner said.

The ocean was relatively calm Sunday, but the victim was overweight and may not have been sufficiently fit for the effort of swimming and diving for abalone, Warner said. The man had only a 1-gallon container that he was using as a flotation device, insufficient to keep him afloat, he said.

Most divers use boogie boards, surfboards or something similar to help them stay afloat, Warner said. There were eight to 10 people diving for abalone from the same beach on Sunday, he said.

Sheriff’s officials said they would not release the diver’s identity until his family is notified.

The last diving fatality off the Mendocino Coast this year happened Aug. 21, when a Pleasanton man died while diving for abalone near the town of Mendocino.

Sunday’s victim is at least the eighth person to die while abalone hunting off the North Coast this year.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

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