The lure of sea diving proved fatal over the weekend when a Long Beach man died during an excursion on the Elly oil rig off Huntington Beach.

Theodore Watler, 64, parted ways with a diving group who had hired a commercial vessel to take them to the aging Elly platform on Sunday morning.

The area is one of Southern California’s most popular dive sites, offering a vibrant mix of marine life just below the water’s surface, including anemones and brittle stars that cover the thick steel pillars of the platform. Sea lions roam the waters and thousands of fish fill the bustling backdrop.

For Watler and other Southern California divers, the area was a quiet, vibrant haven. But it is also dangerous. In October, an oil spill from a pipeline that connects the Elly Platform to the Port of Long Beach spilled more than 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

And on Saturday, the day before Watler’s diving trip, waves along the coast were choppy following tsunami activity caused by a volcano erupting near the South Pacific nation of Tonga. No major damage was reported and most areas saw 1-2 foot waves. But officials warned the situation presented dangers to swimmers, surfers and boats. Beaches and ports along the coast have been closed.

But Watler was an adventurer, said his friend Tom Menne.

Menne, who has hosted Watler in his northern California home for the past two summers, said the two met on a diving trip off Catalina Island nearly six years ago. year. Menne offered to lend the Long Beach resident a laptop battery, but Watler insisted on paying him.

“He was one of those people you were happy to meet,” Menne said when reached by phone Tuesday. “I would put it up there with some of the best people I’ve dived with. He had good equipment and a good knowledge of safe diving.

Watler was reported missing to the U.S. Coast Guard around 10 a.m. Sunday, according to Marine Safety Chief Gonzalo Medina of the Long Beach Fire Department.

Fire department divers, multiple helicopters, sonar technology and a remotely operated vehicle were called in for a search, Medina said.

About five hours later, Watler’s body was found at a depth of 200 feet near the Elly oil rig, about 12 miles from the port of Long Beach. On Monday, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office confirmed his identity.

The cause of death has not been determined, coroner officials said, and the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating.

On Tuesday, Menne was saddened that the friends weren’t having another summer adventure together. He had introduced Watler, originally from Honduras, to the Marble Mountains of the Klamath National Forest, where Watler went deer hunting with another group of friends.

“He later said it was the best trip of his life,” Menne said.


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