California Diver Drowns
NVR2L8 - 9/19/2008 10:17 PM
Category: Health & Safety
Replies: 3

SEA RANCH, California (13 Sep 2008) — A man drowned while diving off Sea Ranch on California’s North Coast.

The other divers found their friend unconscious and pulled him ashore.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire emergency crews responded to a call for help from people who witnessed the accident.

The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities have identified the man who died diving off Sea Ranch as Richard K. Baer.

Baer, 57, was a retired Coast Guard rescue crew member from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Ron Long, one of two friends who was diving with the victim, told police that Baer drowned after becoming entangled in kelp.

Baer’s death was the sixth diver fatality off the North Coast of California this year.

All of the diver deaths were related to abalone diving.
NVR2L8 - 9/20/2008 11:28 AM
According to the other diver Ron Long, they were in about 12 feet of water off Galleons Ranch, about 5.5 miles north of Stewarts Point when Baer became entangled and couldn’t reach the surface. Baer was an experienced diver and surfer who lived in Scottsdale, Az. I am not sure why the other divers were unable to assist Baer or if there were other circumstances, such as a medical condition or equipment malfunction which caused his death. The investigation is continuing.
NVR2L8 - 10/10/2008 10:35 PM
Abalone diver and retired Sacramento City Fire Captain Ron Long had driven along the North Coast countless times on his way to dive sites. But what he saw on Sept. 12 took him by surprise. From Bodega to Sea Ranch, the offshore forests of kelp had grown significantly. The lush canopy was visible from the car he shared with his best friend and longtime diving buddy Rich Baer of Scottsdale. He remembered their conversation: "From the time we left Bodega until we got to Sea Ranch, we were making comments. . . . We said, ’There’s a lot of kelp.’ " That conversation was one of the last ones the two friends would share. Hours later, Baer was dead. He drowned when he was caught by a kelp column that wrapped around his waist and shoulders and held his head five feet under water. Baer was one of seven abalone divers to die along the coast this year and his death is the second attributed to kelp. His many years of diving experience were worthless against their hold. Since 1987, 71 people have died while abalone hunting along the North Coast. Yet only two were attributed to trouble in kelp beds both this year. Baer and Craig Belluomini, a 54-year-old experienced diver from San Bruno, died in separate incidents a month apart. Other divers said the men fell victim to the excessive growth of kelp, which is thicker than in past years and poses great risk. "It’s just in more places. It’s everywhere," said abalone diver Bill Mashek of Forestville. "And it’s something not to mess with. You could have been diving this coast 50 years and you can get caught in the kelp and die." Abalone divers, who are prevented by law from using air tanks, may use kelp to pull themselves to the seabed where abalone can be pried from rocks, but the thicker the kelp, the greater the risk of getting tangled. In August, Mike Guerrero, a novice abalone diver from Castro Valley was diving in Stillwater Cove north of Jenner, when Belluomini became tangled in kelp and drowned. Thicker kelp growth has made for more hazardous abalone diving conditions off the North Coast. In a posting on an industry bulletin board, Guerrero described the attempts of Aug. 9 to rescue Belluomini, who was "floating like a scarecrow with his hands touching the surface" but trapped underwater by a piece of kelp that had wrapped around Belluomini’s leg. Belluomini must have attempted to free himself of the kelp because his knife was missing from its scabbard, Guerrero wrote on the ScubaBoard bulletin, and his weight belt was missing. Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies said Belluomini may have been underwater for 10 minutes before being cut free and pulled to shore where CPR was unsuccessful. With nine weeks left in the 2008 season, the seven North Coast abalone diving-related deaths this year already match the total number of deaths last year. "(Kelp) doesn’t have to be a problem, but more kelp does mean more problems," said Scott Taylor, store manager of Pinnacles Dive Center in Santa Rosa and a certified dive instructor. Divers, even experienced ones, need to be extra aware of kelp and surges which change the structure of the canopy, Taylor said. Taylor recommends divers "skirt the outside edges and enter into it. You would work around the outside edges and only venture so far into it as you were comfortable." While the kelp will remain thick until winter storms thin it out, safety conditions are expected to improve and become safer over the coming weeks. Water clarity typically improves in the fall, and soon divers will be able to see problem kelp before they tangle with it, Taylor said. But that isn’t likely to convince Long to dive again. "The best thing we could have done was to be within 10 feet of each other and have one guy dive and two guys watch," he said. "And even that, I don’t think is safe now. He was trapped so significantly and he was wrapped in the kelp so tight. The hazard is significant."