Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"THE TWO DIVES", by Cal Porter


(Photo above, The Zuma Beach Emergency Crew, Late 1940's.
Left to right: Cal, Don, Ray, Mel, Mac. Photo courtesy of Cal Porter.)

It was late afternoon in the early 1950’s, going into evening. Most of the lifeguards at Zuma Beach were about to go off duty when the old switchboard at headquarters lit up with a phone call. The sheriff on the line quickly relayed the information that there was a diver down somewhere between Malibu Colony and the surfing beach; Emergency!!! With me as the senior man and driver, six of us piled into the old International Truck that was our emergency vehicle, seen in the photo above, and with red lights and siren going we headed south on Pacific Coast Highway. It would take us about fifteen minutes to reach the site and it had probably been at least that long before we had received the call. With that amount of elapsed time we realized that this would more than likely be a recovery operation rather than a rescue. There was always the chance the diver had left the water unknown to his fellow diver who had reported the incident.

Our diving equipment in the 1940’s and early 1950’s for rescue or recovery consisted of diving masks and fins, that was all. The aqualung had been invented some years earlier but was not available as yet. Wet suits would be along in a few years but at this time only a few experimental, primitive examples existed. None of the lifeguards had them. Even our masks and fins had only been around for a dozen years. There was no Baywatch Lifeguard Rescue Boat at that time. We did have paddleboards.

Arriving on the scene, the victim’s diving buddy quickly pointed out where his friend had last been seen, and yes, he was wearing a diving suit of some sort, and no, there was no way he could have left the water without being seen. This was a diving area I knew well, it being one of my favorites for abalone and lobsters. I had the divers spread out and we began searching the area quickly since we would soon lose our daylight. We were all pretty good, breath-holding free divers but after forty-five minutes of looking our visibility was almost gone. The unsuccessful search was over, called off. The divers, very cold by now, all left the water. However, I had drifted quite a distance south in an attempt to cover as much ocean bottom as possible in the short time left. With visibility being overtaken by darkness I took one last dive before leaving the water. What I saw on that last dive was the biggest bull lobster I had ever seen, and I had dived for them most of my life. The largest California Spiny Lobster on record was three feet long and weighed over twenty-six pounds. This one had to go fifteen pounds or more. What to do? Well, the search was over, called off, the group on the beach and the sheriff had dispersed in the waning light. The only ones left were the lifeguards waiting for me in the semi-darkness by the truck. I dove again, brought the monster to the surface, and then to the beach. It fed a good many of us for dinner that night.

Some days later the diver was still missing, no doubt by now taken miles away by the ocean waves, drifts, and currents, probably never to be found. My friend and I were off on a diving jaunt this day, and we eventually ended up in this same area where we knew the diving was usually good. After many dives we had done well, and after a couple more we would be through for the day. By this time I was in the very spot where the victim’s buddy said he had last seen his friend. I took a deep breath, held it, and dove toward the bottom. There below me, facing the ocean floor, was a diver. He was wearing an early version of a black wet suit and had a weight belt around his waist. It at first startled me to see another diver that I hadn’t known was out there, but the realization of who this was hit home when the surge of the sea rolled him over on his back and he looked straight at me through his diving mask. I shot up for air and called for my friend to come and help me. We managed to bring him to the surface, get him to the beach, call the sheriff, and it was all soon over. He hadn’t been tangled in the kelp, and the wonder was why his body had returned to the very spot where we had searched so carefully a few days before. Was it a faulty wet suit filled with water, or too heavy a weight belt that caused his demise? We could see no reason why he had drowned, and I don’t think it was ever determined.

(Photo above shows Malibu Point. Photo courtesy of Cal Porter.)

I had gone to sea one day to find a lost diver and returned with a giant lobster.

I had gone to sea another day to find a giant lobster and returned with the body of a man.

Cal Porter

(The Two Dives", by Cal Porter. Copyright Cal Porter 2010. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission.)

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Many thanks to Cal for sharing this great story with us !

Stay tuned as you will soon read about another rescue several years later that also began with a call to Zuma Lifeguard Headquarters and involved the same rescue vehicle transport!...


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

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1 comment:

William Maguire said...

Just in from LACo Chief, Bob Burnside, Ret.:
"Cal's account of finding the victim the next day made me recall a similar eerie recovery at Point Zero... a Lady that committed suicide in the eel grass... while looking for her in 5 feet of eel grass (but really checking for bugs... suddenly when I parted the grass (which was really thick)... There she was... with her hair flowing with the eel grass and her eyes staring right at me... no more that 15 inches from my nose. I was about 20 yrs old and it scared the shit out of me... as I shot to the surface like a Polaris missile!!! Was without a doubt the most shocking experience I ever had as a lifeguard... "Notice, I said as a lifeguard!"