Three abalone divers were killed in separate accidents less than 24 hours apart over the weekend in northern California, where deadly rip tides pounded the shores.
A 66-year-old man from Pacifica, Calif., was found Saturday afternoon in the water off Shell Beach, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. Rescuers found him about 15 feet underwater, still wearing his weight belt.
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On Sunday morning, a 36-year-old San Francisco diver drowned after getting caught in a rip tide at Salt Point State Park in Sonoma County. A group of fellow divers attempted to save the man, but by the time they reached him, it was too late.
A few hours later, another diver was found dead in the water off MacKerricher State Park beach north of Fort Bragg. The male diver was also about 15 feet under the water and still wearing his weight belt, police said.
The Sonoma County sheriff's helicopter crew flew all three calls, lifting two bodies from the water and one from the shoreline.
"It is the busiest we've been in that short amount of time with that many horrible outcomes," Paul Bradley, a 12-year sheriff's helicopter pilot, told the Press Democrat.
Divers turned out in droves Saturday morning to hunt for abalone, or edible sea snails, in the unusually low tide.
"It's a busy season out on the coast, it's abalone season. We've got a lot of people out here today," Sonoma County sheriff's Sgt. Ed Hoener told the Press Democrat. "But it's very dangerous along our coast. People may be underestimating the force of the ocean and their ability to stay safe within the ocean."
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State parks lifeguard Tim Murphy told the Press Democrat Sunday that the constantly changing conditions and strong rip currents along the coast mean abalone divers need to study the water for several minutes before deciding if they should go in.
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