Posted by on March 28, 2005 at 05:46:41:
An intense Monterey Bay rescue effort that appeared doomed as darkness fell ended with joy as two women came ashore on Sunday.
As storm clouds gathered and rain fell, frustrated rescuers had been searching into the evening for the two women, a kayaker and a diver, who went missing in separate incidents.
Then, just after 7 p.m., both women, who were described as skilled in their ocean sports, were found shivering within minutes of each other on different sides of the bay.
"Why they went out in weather like this is hard to guess," said Jim Gunter of the Pacific Grove Fire Department as winds picked up over the bay.
But that was a question best answered another day.
Sunday's dramatic rescue began in mid-afternoon, when a visitor from the East Bay city of Alamo spotted a waving diver in the water far off Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. Maria Schruggs called the Adventures by the Sea kayak shop on the beach below her, where the staff recommend she notify authorities. Schruggs called 911.
Meanwhile, another drama had begun to unfold. Heather Gastil, 28, rented a kayak from Adventures by the Sea's Cannery Row storefront and set out around 1:30 p.m. to explore the bay.
"We told her it was windy and she should stay close to the beach," said Adventures by the Sea employee Daniel Radacovich, who described Gastil as a marine biologist from San Diego.
Owner Frank Knight and manager Brian Glaseur set out in a 22-foot boat to search of the kayaker. When she wasn't immediately found nearby, they decided to check the Lovers Point area and help look for the stranded divers, Knight said.
"Two miles out, we pulled one diver out of the water and then another. We thought there were just two. But then they told us there were three more," Knight said. "That's when we said we'd better call the Coast Guard."
After a half-hour effort, Knight and Glaseur had pulled two more divers out. But the fifth, a 32-year-old San Jose woman, was still missing.
"Some of them were a half-mile apart," he said.
Then the Coast Guard's 47-foot rescue vessel showed up, and the divers boarded.
"It was a good Samaritan who pulled the four divers out of the water," said Coast Guard Seaman Adam Crouse at Lovers Point, where he scanned the horizon along with dozens of other rescue workers, including the Pacific Grove Fire Department's ocean rescue team, lifeguards, police and park rangers.
A Coast Guard helicopter was on its way from San Francisco, but at 140 knots an hour, Crouse said, the trip could take an hour. He added that the Coast Guard has only one vessel in Monterey large enough to handle the rough swells and winds that were building by late afternoon.
"It looks like it's going to be a long night," he said at 5 p.m. as the Fire Department pulled out its trucks and left the rescue efforts to the Coast Guard. "We know that the weather is going to get worse."
Knight said the divers told him they thought they had gone down at a 60-foot depth, but the waters were deeper and the sea so murky they decided to come back up. When they did, their dive boat and its pilot were nowhere to be seen, apparently drifted away in the high winds that were building. So they began waving and flashing the emergency strobe lights that were seen onshore.
Once he had off-loaded the diver to the Coast Guard vessel, Knight and Glaseur continued their search for Gastil, wondering why a bright orange kayak was suddenly so hard to find. They made three trips zigzagging the bay, from Monterey to Moss Landing and back, Glaseur said. Back at the Cannery Row storefront, employees Radacovich and Josh Eisen waited anxiously for word.
"We'll stay here all night until he comes back," Radacovich said.
The copter arrived, and the Coast Guard vessel pulled up to its Monterey pier to allow the four distraught divers to debark. One of them stood and stared out at the bay with tear-filled eyes.
By 6:30 it was dark and raining. The ship and helicopter were still circling the bay in widening arcs as dispatchers grew more doubtful of a positive outcome.
After dark, Knight and Glaseur headed back to their store. Unable to search in the dark, rough seas in the small craft, Knight could only wait for word from the Coast Guard.
At 7 p.m. police scanners crackled with the news: a shivering kayaker had come ashore at Sand City. A police spokesman said Gastil, who was wearing a life vest, had been tossed into the sea from her kayak and either swam or washed ashore. She walked to the Ultramar gas station in Sand City, where employees called police.
She appeared to be suffering from hypothermia but could speak and walk. She was taken by ambulance to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, where officials said she was in stable condition.
Knight was elated when he heard the news.
"But I feel for those divers. It's been one heck of an afternoon," he said.
Then, just 15 minutes later, Coast Guard radios came alive. Rescue efforts were called off and a woman was being brought into the pier, appearing to suffer from hypothermia. Although the Coast Guard would not release the woman's name or condition, police and Knight said she could walk and talk before she was taken by ambulance to Community Hospital.
Her fellow divers danced and hugged on the pier as she came ashore, Knight said.
"It's been quite a day," Coast Guard Seaman Meredith Hodgins said as the diver was headed to the hospital.
"We thought it looked really bad, but it turned into a pretty good day, a pretty good Easter Sunday. I guess in the end we had a little bit of resurrection here."
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