Scuba diver dies exploring sunken ship off San Diego |

Scuba diver dies exploring sunken ship off San Diego

BEN FOX, Associated Press Writer

SAN DIEGO- A prominent marine researcher died Sunday after exploring sunken ships with her husband and three other divers off the San Diego coast.

Rescuers found Mia Tegner, 53, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, unconscious at a depth of about 90 feet, said city lifeguard Lt. Brant Bass.

Tegner, an expert on kelp forest ecology, was very experienced, completing more than 3,000 dives, Bass said.

The Scripps researcher and her companions had been exploring the wreckage of the El Rey when she began to run out of oxygen and returned to the surface about 2 p.m., Bass said.

Tegner went back under the water, cradling a second air tank under her arm, to make a more gradual return to the surface to avoid decompression sickness. A few minutes later, her companions saw the second tank float to the surface and began searching for her, he said.

”This was a very strenuous thing she was doing, juggling two scuba tanks,” Bass said.

Scuba experts plan to examine her equipment Monday to determine if there was a malfunction, said Wayne Pawelek, Scripps Institution diving safety officer. The San Diego County Medical Examiner also plans an autopsy.

”It’s absolutely alarming to me that something like this could happen to someone with her qualifications and experience,” Pawelek said.

Tegner, who has worked at Scripps for about 30 years, was diving for pleasure with several companions and her husband, Eric Hanauer, a retired California State University, Fullerton, diving safety officer.

They were exploring the El Rey, a ship intentionally submerged in 1987 about a mile off the coast to create an artificial reef. Earlier in the day, they were diving nearby at the Yukon, a Canadian warship submerged last year for the same purpose.

This was the second fatal diving accident off San Diego in recent weeks. A 41-year-old Italian diver died Dec. 29 while exploring the sunken Yukon.

Tegner, who lived in San Diego, specialized in the health of kelp forests and studied the potential for restoring sea urchin and abalone populations off the California coast. In 1988, she was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trust to continue her abalone research.

Born in Santa Monica, Tegner received a bachelor’s degree in biology from UC San Diego in 1969 and a Ph.D in marine biology from Scripps in 1974.

”She was one of the most respected people at Scripps. This is tough,” Pawelek said.