Diver pulled by rip current is found dead

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Posted by on November 07, 2005 at 06:09:49:

The third scuba diver to die in San Diego waters since June had tried but failed to escape a rip current in La Jolla late Saturday, authorities said yesterday.

The 48-year-old man, whose name wasn't made public yesterday, was found floating several hundred yards from shore after getting separated from his two diving companions in the darkness, authorities said.

The death comes only a week after a 54-year-old Carlsbad man died while scuba diving off Sunset Cliffs, and less than five months after a 49-year-old Point Loma scuba instructor died while exploring a sunken battleship off Mission Beach.

The number of recent fatalities is unusually high in an area where a year might pass without anybody dying in a scuba-related accident, a San Diego lifeguard spokesman said yesterday. Diving experts say the rash of recent deaths seems to be nothing but a run of extremely bad luck.

"Bad things always come in threes," said Werner Kurn, a scuba instructor and owner of Ocean Enterprises Scuba Diving in Kearny Mesa.

Kurn noted that a large number of scuba divers have been heading out at night in recent months because of good lobster-hunting conditions. Lobsters are easier to catch at night, when they emerge from their hiding places to scavenge for food.

Saturday night's fatal chain of events began when the man and two fellow divers headed into the waters off South Casa Beach, according to San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Greg Buchanan, who said he didn't know whether the three were lobster hunting.

Alarmed by the strong rip current, the man decided to head back to shore, eventually getting separated from his two companions, both of whom were pulled out into the ocean, Buchanan said.

The two others eventually managed to get back to shore near Wipeout Beach to the south shortly before 11 p.m., and they called 911. Rescue workers found the victim floating a few hundred yards offshore. He was pronounced dead at Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla at 12:30 a.m.

At the time he was lifted from the water, the man didn't have the mouthpiece of his scuba equipment in his mouth, which means he probably died while battling the rip current, Buchanan said.

South Casa Beach, just south of the Children's Pool, is known for its powerful rip currents, and sometimes divers will use the current to their advantage by allowing it to drag them out into the ocean, Kurn said.

However, especially during lobster season, some of the people who decide to scuba dive aren't necessarily experienced, Kurn said. Lobster-hunting conditions have been excellent in recent weeks, with "unbelievable" visibility, he said.

Daniel Fisch of Carlsbad was diving for lobster when he disappeared the afternoon of Oct. 30. His body was found on the bottom of the ocean off Sunset Cliffs. Authorities believe his tanks might have run out of air.

In June, scuba instructor Steven Donathan of Point Loma died after apparently getting trapped in the boiler room of the Yukon, a 366-foot Canadian warship that had been scuttled in Mission Bay to serve as a diving attraction. The boiler room was supposed to have been sealed off to divers, but somebody managed to pry it open.

Donathan's death was the first scuba-related fatality in San Diego since 2002, when two people died. Roughly 100 people die each year while diving in U.S. waters, according to Marty McCafferty of the Divers Alert Network in Durham, N.C.

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