Scuba veteran's body found at bottom of sunken warship

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Posted by on June 28, 2005 at 08:43:54:

The body of a scuba instructor was found in a sunken warship off the coast of Mission Beach yesterday afternoon, three days after he was last seen alive.

Authorities had been searching for 50-year-old Steven O. Donathan of Point Loma Heights since Saturday night. He vanished during a dive to the Yukon, a scuttled ship 100 feet below the surface.

"We were notified by the diving team that they have located him," said San Diego lifeguard Lt. Greg Buchanan. "He was on the bottom level of the Yukon, the sixth level, basically on the ocean floor. He's in a very difficult place to access, in very close quarters."

Buchanan said about 25 divers had assisted in the search. It was too early to tell what may have caused Donathan's death. San Diego police and city lifeguards were investigating.

His family, including wife Vicky, were at the lifeguard headquarters yesterday awaiting recovery of the body.

"But I couldn't stand it so I left," Vicky Donathan said later.

Like others in the close-knit diving community, she wondered what happened to a man many regarded as a deep-water pioneer.

"Did he get stuck in the Yukon? I don't know," she said. "There are so many questions."

She said a tribute to her husband would be held at La Jolla Shores tomorrow night, on the anniversary of a picnic called Burgers and Bubbles that her husband had organized each year.

"His friends wanted me to go on with it this year," Vicky Donathan said.

Mark Rainbolt, director of training for Ocean Enterprises, said he, too, is mystified over what may have happened to Donathan on the Yukon.

"He had the technical experience for very deep dives," Rainbolt said. "He was a deep-water pioneer. If there was an airplane wreck in the ocean, he was the guy they called to go find it.

"Perhaps he got stuck, maybe wedged in a tight spot, and couldn't get out."

Donathan is believed to have been using twin air tanks, with enough air for about 90 minutes. If he had become stuck, and was alone, there would have been no way for him to communicate his predicament.

His friends said he had made hundreds of dives on the Yukon.

Christopher Gilmartin said Donathan was "very comfortable diving to the edge, pushing the envelop of diving."

He said Donathan routinely dived at 200 and 300 feet. His body was found at about 100 feet.

Donathan had organized a group called West Coast Tekies, with a Web site webtekies.com. The motto of the organization was, Taking Diving to the Limits and Beyond.

A group of divers was carefully planning how to remove the body from the ship.

"My understanding is (the recovery group) will be videotaped and dive in a very meticulous manner in an effort to explain what happened," lifeguard Buchanan said.

For two days, rescue workers had searched by helicopter and Coast Guard cutter, with more than 30 scuba divers performing more than 60 dives.

The Yukon, a 366-foot decommissioned Canadian warship, was sunk five years ago two miles off Mission Beach in what's called Wreck Alley. It has been the site of two other fatal dives.

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