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Abalone Season Off To Deadly Start On Bay Area Coast

WESTPORT, Mendocino County (CBS SF) -- The abalone diving season is off to a deadly start, with the latest death of a man trapped by rising tide along the Mendocino County coast Tuesday.

There have already been four deaths this year related to abalone diving just ten days into the season.

An El Cerrito man died Tuesday evening after getting trapped by the tide, and falling down a cliff while trying to climb to safety, officials said.

Thousands of amateur divers come from all over to hunt abalone.

"There's the perception there's going to be more abalone available because no one's been out picking them for so long," Helicopter Unit Sergeant Pete Quartarolo said.

Henry One, the helicopter unit that carries out rescues for the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department has been busy.

"Henry One averages anywhere from seventy-five to one hundred rescues a year," Quartarolo said.

All too often, the amateur divers are not in proper shape for the strenuous activity.

"We get divers that get into stress because they over exert themselves and they reveal a heart condition, or some other medical condition," Quartarolo said.

The giant snail-like creatures are pried off rocks with special tools, and the mollusks are highly prized for their delicate flavor.

Rescuers know they could have a busy season ahead of them, and had a warning for divers.

"Stay in shape.  Know what you're doing and respect the ocean, or you get a ride in the helicopter,"

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