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Natalie Wood could have been saved, rescuer says

Actress Natalie Wood in 1963.
AP Photo

LOS ANGELES -- The lifeguard captain who helped pull Natalie Wood's body from the water nearly 30 years ago says he believes the actress could have been saved had a search begun earlier for her.

Former Los Angeles County supervising rescue boat captain Roger Smith tells the Los Angeles Times that he was alerted that Wood was missing at 5:11 a.m. on Nov. 29, 1981. That was some four hours after she went missing from a yacht off Santa Catalina Island during a trip with her husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken.

Smith said, based on the condition of her body when they pulled her from the water, he believes she survived for some time and was blown out to sea.

Photos: Natalie WoodPhotos: Robert WagnerPhotos: Christopher Walken
More on Natalie Case from "48 Hours"

The Sheriff's Department reopened the death investigation last week.

The newspaper says Smith told it "that he hoped the Sheriff's Department's reopening of her death investigation would answer lingering questions about why lifeguards were not alerted sooner when Wood disappeared."

Wood's death was ruled an accident at the time.

"She probably cried for help for hours," Smith told a Times interviewer. "I've always believed she could have been saved. Her fingers were still pliable when she was pulled from the water, suggesting she had not been dead for hours."

Smith also talked to "48 Hours" about the case: