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2 divers are killed inspecting aqueduct

February 08, 2007|J. Michael Kennedy | Times Staff Writer

Two divers were killed Wednesday as they inspected equipment at a Central California pumping plant that is part of the state aqueduct system.

The two, both experienced divers, were performing a routine inspection of the Dos Amigos Plant, which is 10 miles south of Los Banos, next to Interstate 5, when they apparently drowned.

"A million and one things can go wrong," said Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman Paul Barile. "You can dive 100 times and nothing will happen. But then something will. You just don't know."

Barile described the aqueduct as cold and dark where large pieces of debris, including cars and logs, have been recovered.

The divers were identified as Tim Crawford, 56, of Seaside and Martin Alvarado, 44, of Coalinga. Crawford had been with the Department of Water Resources for 19 years and Alvarado for six.

"This was very routine for them to go down and do an inspection," said Sue Sims, a spokeswoman for the department. "There wasn't a specific problem that they were dealing with."

She said it was the first time the department had experienced such a loss in its diving corps, which consists of 12 people who work throughout the state.

Barile said Crawford and Alvarado went into the water about 10:30 a.m. to inspect the spot where a huge grate blocks debris from entering the pumping station.

A third diver was watching from a platform above them when he lost sight of the two and called the Sheriff's Department for assistance.

The third diver then jumped in the water and recovered the two men, the second man located 15 minutes after the first. They were taken to Memorial Hospital Los Banos, where they were pronounced dead.

michael.kennedy@latimes.com

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