A 40-year-old Lakewood man died after free-diving for lobster off Totuava Beach, on Saturday, Sept. 28, the first day of lobster season, officials said.
The man, identified by the Orange County coroner as Ryan Huff, was diving with two friends in a cove just north of Thousand Steps Beach in Laguna Beach. OC Lifeguards, Laguna Beach Lifeguards, Laguna Beach Fire and police responded to the location at 7:15 a.m.
Huff’s friends told officials all three dove down 20 to 30 feet, but when the friends surfaced, Huff was not with them, said police Sgt. Jim Cota.
“They found him unconscious near the bottom,” Cota said. “They attempted to pull him up but he was caught on something. They eventually pulled him up and out of the water.”
The two men were struggling with Huff at the surface when Laguna Beach lifeguards arrived, said Lifeguard Capt. Kai Bond. The lifeguards brought the unconscious Huff to shore where paramedics found him in cardiac arrest and began lifesaving measures.
He was taken to nearby Mission Hospital Laguna Beach where he was pronounced dead just after 8 a.m. The coroner is still investigating the cause of death.
Jason Young, chief of OC Lifeguards, said the fishing gear attached to Huff’s body reportedly became caught on the rocks, preventing him from surfacing for air.
“All divers, free and scuba, should always practice the buddy system,” Young said. “Although rescue efforts were not successful in saving the diver, it was fortunate that fellow divers were present to recognize trouble and do their best to help.”
Young cautioned that diving in the nearshore environment can present serious risks associated with currents and waves that can lead to impact and entanglement with equipment, rocks, caves and kelp.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for Huff’s wife, Diane, and his two young sons. About $21,000 had been raised as of Thursday afternoon. In the post, Huff is described as “an incredible man, someone who could be counted on and would drop everything to be by your side. He was a jack of all trades and an amazing husband, father, brother, son and friend.”
“Our condolences are with the victim’s family and friends,” Young said.