KUNST, Diane (c. 1953-1997), drowned while SCUBA diving at Potato Rock, Santa Cruz Island. She was 44 years old.
In the News~
July 29, 1997 [LAT]: “Investigators are looking at the diving gear used by a Redding woman who drowned Sunday morning in calm waters off Santa Cruz Island. Officials believe Diane "Kooki" Kunst, 44, drowned after running out of air about 9 a.m. while ascending from a depth of 70 feet about 150 yards from an outcropping called Potato Rock near the island. Kunst, who went by her maiden name of Schmeidl, was on the first day of a three-day dive trip on the 65-foot dive boat Peace out of Ventura Harbor, said boat captain William Magee. "It was the first dive, and just perfect conditions," Magee said. "Her dive partner said [afterward] that at approximately 50 feet she noticed [Kunst] with her face mask half off her face and in a panic." The dive partner shared her extra regulator with Kunst, but Kunst began to flail about and spit out the regulator after taking just a few breaths, and then sank to the bottom, Magee said. Kunst, who was an advanced diver just short of getting a master diver certificate, had only about 100 pounds of pressure remaining in her air tank, he said. "It seems like she should have been able to make it up on that. It would be compressed at that depth and harder to suck, but it seems like she should have been able to use it," Magee said. "I don't know, she might have gone into a state of panic." She had a full tank when she entered the water, usually about 3,000 pounds of compressed air, and her partner successfully surfaced with about 1,000 pounds of pressure left in her tank, Magee said. Authorities are trying to determine why Kunst ran out of air so much sooner than her partner. By the time divers from the Peace got down to retrieve her body, Kunst had been under for at least five minutes. A registered nurse on the trip began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and two park rangers, who came from Santa Cruz Island on a small motorboat, also helped. The park extends about a mile out from the shore of the islands, so she was within park territory, said Carol Spears, a Channel Islands National Park spokeswoman. A Coast Guard helicopter from San Pedro rushed to the scene and picked up Kunst, who never regained consciousness, officials said. She was pronounced dead about 11 a.m. at Goleta Valley's Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara County. Magee and investigators with the Santa Barbara coroner's office, which is handling the inquiry into Kunst's death, have a lot of questions about what might have prompted Kunst to panic and why her dive partner was not able to save her. "It's hard to understand why this could happen to an advanced diver," Magee said. "It seems that she was low on air, that she panicked, and that other decisions were made in a state of panic. There were mistakes made. She had a lot of weight on, for instance. It was preventable." The name of Kunst's dive partner, who has returned to Northern California, was not released by authorities. This is the third time in 14 years that the dive boat Peace has had a drowning, Magee said. "And every one of those could have been easily prevented if simple mistakes were not made," said Magee, who spoke Monday morning from a shipboard cellular phone.”