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Student Diver's Death Remains Unexplained : Accident: Woman was found off Santa Catalina Island with oxygen in her tank. Autopsy is delayed.

July 21, 1991|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officials have not determined what caused the death of a 22-year-old diving student who was discovered unconscious on the ocean floor near Santa Catalina Island with oxygen in her scuba tank, a Los Angeles County coroner's spokesman said Saturday.

Rochanak Saberzadeh of Chatsworth died while diving in about 90 feet of water with five other students and two instructors in a popular diving area called Farnsworth Bank, a sheriff's spokesman on the island said.

Although there was oxygen in her tank, the regulator that carries the oxygen to the diver was not in Saberzadeh's mouth when she was found, Sgt. Bob Wachsmuth said.

The cause of death may not be determined until after Tuesday when the next available freight vessel is scheduled to transport the body to the mainland for an autopsy, Wachsmuth said. Saberzadeh's body remains on the island at the County-USC Hyperbaric Dive Chamber, where she was taken after the accident Friday morning.

Saberzadeh was healthy and although she was taking diving lessons she had dived in Mexico, Wachsmuth said. He said her death could have been caused by drowning or a heart attack. Because she was diving in 90 feet of water, he said it is doubtful that she died of decompression illness, commonly called the bends.

"We will probably never know why the regulator came out of her mouth," he said.

A special unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began Saturday to investigate the death by examining Saberzadeh's diving equipment and questioning the instructors.

Although the Sheriff's Department frequently uses helicopters to transport passengers to and from the island in emergencies, Wachsmuth said the department does not use the helicopters to transport corpses.

Saberzadeh was a student at Ventura Dive & Sport, which is based at Ventura Harbor.

The death was the first such accident for the diving school, which opened just over two years ago, said manager Drew DeFever.

Saberzadeh and the five other student divers were swimming at about 8:50 a.m. almost two miles off the west end of the island from a vessel called "Peace," Wachsmuth said.

The rest of the group was on the way up when they noticed that Saberzadeh was not with them, he said. When they submerged they found her on the ocean floor.

The boat crew included an emergency medical technician, officials said.

Each year, there are between 16 and 20 diving accidents in the waters around Santa Catalina Island, and several are fatalities, said Chief Petty Officer Reid Crispino of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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