Three Bay Area abalone divers die in North Coast drownings
Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 8:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 3:00 p.m.
The three abalone divers who died off the North Coast during a 24-hour period this weekend were the first deaths of the year and the most in a brief period of time since three abalone divers died over two days in 2007.
All three divers were from the Bay Area.
Two divers died in 2012, near Jenner and the town of Mendocino, and in 2011 four abalone divers died off of the North Coast, including two in April within two days, according to Press Democrat records.
The diver who died Sunday morning while looking for abalone in rough water off of a Fort Bragg beach was 50-year-old Henry Choy of San Bruno, Mendocino County Deputy Coroner Scott Poma said Monday.
The other Sunday victim was Kenneth Liu, 36, of San Francisco, the Sonoma County Coroner's Office said Monday. Liu became caught in a rip current while diving off of Fisk Mill Cove in northern Sonoma County.
On Saturday afternoon, retired Pacifica firefighter Cedric Collett, 66, died while diving for abalone off of a Sea Ranch beach. He was found about 15 feet below the surface, still wearing his weight belt.
The triple fatalities started with Collett's death at about 1:15 p.m. Saturday, followed by Liu's death at 8:58 a.m. Sunday and finally Choy's death sometime after 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
Choy's friends called 911 at 9:30 a.m., asking for help at MacKerricher Beach north of Fort Bragg for a diver missing in the ocean.
An extensive search was conducted, involving state parks, Mendocino County deputies, the U.S. Coast Guard, Fort Bragg firefighters and the Sonoma County sheriff's helicopter. The helicopter crew found him at 11:10 a.m., about 15 feet under water, still wearing his weight belt.
Choy had been abalone diving with friends and family when he got into trouble in rough water, Poma said.
"Friends saw him in distress. They couldn't get to him because of rough conditions," Poma said.
Family members said Choy had some experience with abalone diving.
"This was not his first time but he was not a veteran diver," said Poma.
Autopsies for Collett and Liu were scheduled for today in Sonoma County.
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