Diver goes missing during abalone expedition off California coast

At least seven divers have died in Northern California this year while searching for abalone.

At least seven divers have died in Northern California this year while searching for abalone.

(Los Angeles Times)

Search efforts are underway for a diver who went missing during an abalone expedition off the coast of Mendocino County, authorities said.

The 57-year-old Oakland man, David Tan Le, was last seen about 8 a.m. Monday entering the ocean near Moat Creek Beach in Point Arena, a small coastal community about 62 miles north of Bodega Bay, according to Lt. Greg Stefani of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

He and several friends and family were searching for abalone. He did not surface from the water, so the group searched the area and called authorities, he said.

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The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter on Monday as members of the Redwood Coast Volunteer Fire Department, Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue searched for him along the beach. The search was eventually called off because seas had became too rough.

Mendocino County Search and Rescue volunteers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife maritime wardens and SCUBA divers resumed the search on Tuesday morning, but later suspended the effort due to hazardous sea conditions.

The search will resume again Wednesday, Stefani said.

The Oakland man is one of several divers who have gone missing while diving for the cherished mollusk off the rugged coasts of Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Other divers have died.

In August, the body of Yoshihiro Ohhashi, 57, of Pleasanton was recovered after he was overcome by rough seas while diving for abalone off the Mendocino coast.

The Northern California coast attracts thousands of divers during abalone season, which runs from April 1 to Nov. 30, with a monthlong break in July.

Abalone cling to rocks along the coast and feed on kelp and other algae, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It takes years for abalone to grow to a legal size for harvest. The minimum size limit is 7 inches along the longest shell diameter — anything smaller must be returned to the rock surface from which it was removed.

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