East Hampton police said Wednesday they could not explain how a young California man became separated from a dive rope Sunday and died in the deep waters near the wreck of the ocean liner Andrea Doria off the coast of Massachusetts.
An autopsy will be conducted on the body of the victim, Michael A. LaPrade, 27, of Gardena, Calif., said Lt. Chris Anderson of the East Hampton Police Department. The body was returned to Montauk where the dive boat, the John Jack, summers.
"We've talked to all our parties on the dive boat, the dive boat captain, everyone there," Anderson said. He said the investigation is continuing and it is too early to tell how LaPrade got separated from the dive line between the wreck and the dive boat, which is based in New Jersey.
LaPrade was last seen "down in close proximity to the wreck when his buddy loses sight of him," Anderson said.
The team realized LaPrade was missing when the other divers returned to the boat, Anderson said, and search divers found him hours later on the ocean floor near the wreck.
The captain of the dive boat, Richard Benevento, declined to comment Wednesday, citing the investigation.
LaPrade was the 16th diver to perish at the site, about 40 miles south of Nantucket Island. His death came just one day before the 55th anniversary of the collision of the New York-bound Andrea Doria, an Italian passenger ship, and the Swedish liner Stockholm on July 25, 1956. Forty-six of the 1,660 on board the Andrea Doria died and it sank the next day.
One veteran Long Island diver, Bill Pfeiffer of Nesconset, said Wednesday that diving the Andrea Doria site is dangerous because of the depth -- about 200 feet below the surface -- and strong currents in the area.
The cause of death "could be a combination of factors. We might never know," said Pfeiffer, president of the Long Divers Association and a diver for 35 years.
He said divers use their hands to work their way down the dive line to the wreck and that anyone who becomes separated from the rope would not be able to swim back because of the weight of the dive gear and strong currents in the area.
"If they become separated from the line, at that point their dive is over," Pfeiffer said. A separated diver would typically release an inflatable vinyl bag that would pop to the surface, he said, and the diver would resurface slowly to avoid getting the bends.
The fact that LaPrade's body was found on the ocean floor "tends to indicate he went unconscious," Pfeiffer said.
LaPrade was a student at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., according to his father, Paul LaPrade of Phoenix. The Associated Press quoted the father as saying he urged his son not to do the dive because of the danger.