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Brothers Die While Diving in Old Mine

Tragedy: A friend refused to follow the Santa Ana pair as they explored pools in one of the Cleveland National Forest's abandoned shafts.

June 25, 2002|MIKE ANTON, DAVE McKIBBEN and TINA BORGATTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two brothers who disappeared after exploring the murky waters of an abandoned mine in the Cleveland National Forest were found dead Monday by a team of sheriff's divers.

The discovery ended an anxious overnight vigil for family and friends, who waited for a trained cave diver to lead the search. The two men were reported missing Sunday by a friend who had refused to follow them into the water.

Sheriff's divers said they found Nicholas, 23, and Glenn Anderson, 18, of Santa Ana near each other in branching channels about 600 feet from the mine's entrance. The two were floating in about 10 feet of water.

"They dove in a hole, and they just didn't come back," their mother, Terry Kling, told reporters.

The century-old complex known as the Blue Light Mine has been a magnet for hikers and teenagers, even though federal forestry officials deemed it a serious safety hazard.

Authorities said the air in the shaft where the brothers were found contained just 4% oxygen and a collection of as-yet-unknown gases.

"The water went from a few inches to waist-deep to deep," said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. "The water is jet-black. There's zero visibility. It would be very easy to become disoriented."

The brothers and the friend, Matt Murphy, 17, hiked up rugged Pine Canyon on Sunday afternoon to explore the abandoned 19th century mines in the mountains above the former boomtown of Silverado.

After entering the Blue Light's labyrinth of tunnels, they encountered water in the tight chamber. The Andersons kept going; Murphy did not.

"[Murphy] said, 'I'm not jumping in--you're crazy,' " Amormino said.

Murphy waited about two hours, but never heard from the brothers, who were described as strong swimmers and experienced cavers. Murphy then hiked down the mountain and phoned authorities, who began searching the area about 7 p.m. and stayed throughout the night.

But it wasn't until Monday morning that a cave-diving specialist from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department could be flown in. He and six other Los Angeles and Orange County sheriff's divers entered the inky underground pool and, using lights, found the Andersons in 30 minutes.

The brothers were wearing shorts and T-shirts and "had no special equipment on them," said Jim Slikker, an Orange County sheriff's diver.

The perilous retrieval was done in water filled with slick, chocolate-brown silt, sharp rocks and old railroad ties. The mine shaft is only 4 feet high in parts and 5 feet wide. The divers waded through the muck single file, connected by a safety line.

"Loose rocks were falling on top of us," Slikker said. "The water is extremely cold, and you can get hypothermia really fast without the proper equipment.... Without equipment to test the air quality, a couple of breaths inside the cave and it can be all over that quickly."

The brothers were surfers and involved in the aquatics program at El Modena High School in Orange. Glenn had graduated June 14.

He was a good student, interested in technology, and played goalie on the water polo team, Principal Nancy Murray said. He was popular with girls who loved his golden, shoulder-length hair. In his senior class yearbook, Glenn was named the boy with the nicest hair. "He joked about how long it took to grow," Murray said. "He was very quiet, polite and reserved."

Nicholas was described as an "informal leader" well-liked by co-workers at United Parcel Service in Aliso Viejo, where he was awaiting a promotion to a part-time management position.

"He was a really nice, likable guy, and he took an incredible amount of pride in the job he did," said his supervisor, Bryan Byrd. "He was capable of doing a lot of different things, and we relied on him a lot."

A 1997 El Modena graduate, Nicholas was an avid hiker. He was a regular at the Silverado Canyon Market, a few miles from the mine, where he often stopped for sodas and ice cream.

"He was a darling," said Judi Davis, who owns the market. "He was just a daredevil--very adventurous. He had a beautiful smile too. Now I can just imagine him in that murky water. It's just so tragic."

The brothers were familiar with the area, its trails and mine shafts, and had dived into flooded caves in the desert, Amormino said.

State and federal officials have long warned hikers of the dangers posed by abandoned mines that pockmark California. Each year, half a dozen people die and dozens more are injured in deteriorated shafts.

The state has a hotline to report abandoned mines but virtually no money to plug even a fraction of the tens of thousands of tunnels gouged into the earth by prospectors.

In 1997, a U.S. Forest Service report rated the Blue Light Mine as a high physical hazard and a medium chemical hazard. The report says the mine contains stagnant water, a sulfuric smell and algae growth. "They also observed a lot of trash, meaning there had been a lot of visitors," said Carol Dahmen, a Department of Conservation spokeswoman.

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