Diver is pronounced dead after being pulled from La Jolla Cove, witnesses say

Lifeguards watch over La Jolla Cove from a tower on the edge of Scripps Park.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The case is the third emergency since May involving divers at The Cove.


A diver found not breathing at La Jolla Cove was pulled from the water and pronounced dead the morning of Sept. 3, witnesses said. It was the latest in a series of similar cases at The Cove in the past four months.

The Sept. 3 emergency occurred around 9:30 a.m., when lifeguards were notified that divers in La Jolla Cove had found a fellow diver in the water not breathing. According to San Diego city spokeswoman Monica Muñoz, the diver was recovered from the water and the San Diego Police Department was notified, though she had no other details.

A witness told the La Jolla Light that the diver was a man approximately in his mid-50s who appeared to be with a group. Resuscitation efforts took place on the beach before the diver was pronounced dead, the witness said. Two other people who were there also said the diver had died.

On May 3, a former La Jolla resident who was pulled unconscious from the water during a swim at La Jolla Cove died three days later in a hospital, his family said.

Gene Carman, 67, is believed to have gone into cardiac arrest while in the water, according to the family.

Carman was taken from the water by fellow swimmers after they “saw something floating and soon realized it was a person,” according to a swimmer who was at The Cove.

Witnesses performed CPR until emergency personnel arrived and took over, the swimmer told the Light.

There were no waves at the time and “the conditions were ideal for La Jolla Cove,” the witness said.

A rescue effort July 22 at The Cove earned the lifeguards who responded a Project Heartbeat CPR of the Year award from the San Diego Lifesaving Association. The award is given for the use of CPR during a rescue.

According to lifeguards, Trevor Nielsen, Bryan Valone and Sydney Fortune were in The Cove observation tower when they saw a diver waving an arm offshore. Valone entered the water on a rescue board and made contact with the diver, who told him of an emergency involving another diver, who was unconscious.

“Valone conducted a medical assessment to find the diver had no pulse,” according to lifeguards. He began CPR, and shortly after, Nielsen arrived on a personal watercraft and took Valone and the diver back to La Jolla Cove.

“Nielsen and Valone transferred the patient to the beach and continued CPR, while Fortune arrived with an automated external defibrillator [which is used to help people experiencing cardiac arrest],” according to lifeguards.

Representatives of the lifeguard service said they were unable to comment about the diver’s condition afterward, citing laws that protect a patient’s privacy.

Safety tips

Given that the La Jolla coastline is dotted with some of the most popular diving and snorkeling sites in San Diego, the San Diego Council of Divers leads workshops on the “Three R’s” — rocks, reefs and rip currents (often called “rips” for short). The sessions are offered throughout the year for people who know how to snorkel and scuba dive but perhaps not in tricky, rocky conditions.

“The Cove is a different animal than most sites because it’s a rocky reef structure with waves that come in from all directions. There are submerged rocks that are always there and don’t move, so they create rip currents and cause waves to bend.”

— Joel Tracey, San Diego Council of Divers president

For diving at La Jolla Cove, Council of Divers President Joel Tracey advised that “unless you [have gone on dives at] that location before and are familiar with it, go with an experienced dive partner.”

“The Cove is a different animal than most sites because it’s a rocky reef structure with waves that come in from all directions,” Tracey said. “There are submerged rocks that are always there and don’t move, so they create rip currents and cause waves to bend. These things wouldn’t be apparent to a novice diver or swimmer. You have all these details that are things that, in the broad sense, you would want to know or go with an experienced dive partner or a professional diver that knows.”

When vetting a professional diver, he added, ask for the protocol when someone gets separated.

“You should also not be shore diving without a physical fitness routine that includes diving, because the conditions can be demanding,” Tracey said. “[Diving] requires you to have a better-than-average fitness routine. So before you go, you should talk to your doctor about whether you are physically sound enough to be swimming with scuba equipment.”

Because the conditions can change daily — sometimes hourly — lifeguards advise that beach-goers swim, snorkel or dive where a lifeguard is on duty. They also urge visitors to talk to lifeguards about the hazards of the area they’re in and where they should go for particular activities. ◆