A day of diving for abalone -- an increasingly rare mollusk that's considered a delicacy -- turned tragic when three divers in a group of five were found dead off the coast of Mendocino County, authorities said Sunday.
Two other divers in the group were rescued from the waters near Caspar Cove, and the third deceased diver -- who was initially reported as missing -- was found after sundown in a rocky cove following a nearly five-hour search effort, said Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Sally Swan.
The five divers were part of a group of 10 friends from the Bay Area and the East Coast who were renting a vacation home in Caspar Beach, Swan said.
"This is a treacherous area on some days, and today the conditions were just very dynamic," Swan said, noting that the waves and tide near the cove's rocky, sandy beach can be violent.
The Fire Department was called to the area about 2:45 p.m. on reports that people were struggling or floating in the water, Swan said.
A rescue boat picked up two divers who were conscious and breathing. Once ashore, they were able to walk on their own, Swan said.
But farther out, rescuers found a motionless diver floating in the water. The diver's body was scooped up onto the deck. CPR was administered, but the diver was pronounced dead, Swan said.
Another diver was spotted in a rocky area along the coast, but rescuers couldn't reach him. A helicopter crew eventually airlifted his body out, but he too was pronounced dead, Swan said.
Fire officials along with the U.S. Coast Guard searched for the fifth diver and around 8 p.m., found him in a small cove. Because the cove was difficult to access, rescuers recovered his body by hoisting it up a 50-foot cliff, Swan said.