Diver missing off Point Sur

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Posted by on October 12, 2006 at 11:47:42:

In Reply to: Search Called Osf For Missing Monterey Diver posted by on October 08, 2006 at 20:05:48:

Extensive searches failed to locate the man

65-year-old man disappeared Saturday during a dive 4 miles off Point Sur.

The diver was identified by authorities as Robert Crawford of San Mateo.

He was holding a floating line along with his three companions while preparing for a dive during a charter trip off Big Sur, said Frank Barry, president of Cypress Charters of Monterey. Crawford and others were checking their gear in preparation for a 70-minute dive when the man abruptly plummeted into the deep.

"Everybody was hoping at that point that he got excited and started without his team," said Barry, who had accompanied the group of nine divers on the charter expedition.

A diver who descended almost immediately afterward could not find Crawford.

Crewmen aboard the boat, the Cypress Sea, called the Coast Guard shortly before noon, said the officer on watch at the time, Lt. Ian Callander. The Coast Guard launched two HH-65 helicopters from Air Station San Francisco and a boat from Coast Guard Station Monterey.

The helicopters searched the ocean's surface for more than seven hours. The Coast Guard combed an area of approximately 132 square miles before calling off the search at 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

Cypress Charters ran rescue searches of its own, sending divers to the bottom while people with binoculars watched the surface of the water.

Crawford disappeared in an area called Point Sur Banks. He descended directly over a sea mound with a summit 120 feet below the surface, and with a base 150 feet deep. The currents on the sea bottom, said Barry, whip around the sea mount, making recovery of any object unlikely.

All the divers carried four tanks of air, including two on their back and one under each arm. Coast Guard Lt. Amy Marrs said that Crawford probably had less than two hours of air available when he first submerged.

In addition to the air tanks, Crawford was wearing a rebreather, an apparatus that recycles a diver's exhaled breath into breathable air.

Barry said it is possible to suffocate while wearing a rebreather if the air a diver's lungs are receiving does not contain enough oxygen. But, he said, no one knows if Crawford passed out or simply got excited and descended early.

"It's all conjecture at this point," Barry said.

Crawford was an accomplished diver, said Barry. He had considerable experience diving with a rebreather and was trained extensively in technical diving. Crawford had organized the trip that morning and had been adamant about adhering to safety procedures, said Barry.

Barry said nothing about the day was dangerous.

"None of the depth, the ocean, the currents, the conditions, were challenging."

Barry said that Cypress Charters will continue to search for the missing diver. The Coast Guard will resume a search if any additional evidence surfaces, said Marrs.

Barry said the incident has left him shaken.

"Everything should have gone fine," said Barry. "That's why this is such a mystery. What happened? That's what we're all trying to figure out."

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