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3 abalone divers killed in separate Northern California accidents

April 29, 2013|From a Los Angeles Times staff writer

Powerful rip currents are being blamed for the deaths of three recreational abalone divers in separate incidents over the weekend in Northern California.

The body of a 66-year-old retired Pacifica firefighter was found on Saturday afternoon off Shell Beach in Sonoma County.

Cedric Collett, a strong swimmer in good physical shape, had been diving with a friend but didn't resurface, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. His body was found still in his weight belt, which is used to help a diver stay submerged while prying abalone loose from rocks.

On Sunday morning, several divers helped pull Kenneth Liu, 36, of San Francisco, to shore after he got caught in a rip tide off nearby Salt Point State Park. He could not be revived, the newspaper said.

Several hours later, an unidentified diver was found dead north of Ft. Bragg. A Sonoma County sheriff's sergeant said the man was found about 15 feet below the water and might have been snagged in rocks.

The surf was pounding on rescue crews who responded to all three distress calls, Sonoma County sheriff's Deputy Henri Boustany said.

A low tide drew the divers to the beaches looking for the mollusks that are prized by seafood lovers, the Press Democrat reported.

"It's the busiest we've been in that short amount of time with that many horrible outcomes," said Paul Bradley, a veteran helicopter pilot for the Sheriff's Department.

Abalone season for recreational divers opened April 1 and runs through the end of June.

Tim Murphy, a state parks lifeguard, said abalone divers should spend time studying the water before deciding to dive. Rip currents and fast-changing sea conditions make for a dangerous environment.

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metrodesk@latimes.com

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