A paddle out for Andrew Brislen, of San Clemente is set for 7:30 a.m. Thursday, June 2, at San Clemente’s North Beach, which will be followed by a memorial service the same day at 4 p.m. at Ole Hansen Beach Club, also in San Clemente.
Brislen, an experienced diver who went spear fishing on his own at midday last Thursday, was discovered in a kelp bed off one of Laguna Beach’s most popular dive spots after his wife reported him missing.
The 40-year-old either became entangled in kelp or blacked out holding his breath underwater, figures his wife, Michelle, who along with her husband was certified for scuba diving in Australia in 2003. She was Brislen’s usual dive buddy.
The exact cause of death is still pending the outcome of toxicology results, supervising Deputy Coroner Daniel Aikin said Wednesday, June 1.
Mrs. Brislen reported her husband missing about 9 p.m. after returning home from a school open house and finding dive weights set out and a mask and wetsuit gone. Her own dive gear, including the knife that she routinely carried when the couple dove together, was already packed away in preparation for a weekend dive trip out-of-town with her brother. “If I had had it all out, he probably would have taken it,” she said of the knife that could be used to cut kelp.
Her husband worked in Laguna Beach as an architectural draftsman for Gregg Abel. From a co-worker she learned her husband had left work Thursday at 1 p.m. heading for the water either to swim or dive. “That’s totally him,” she said of her husband, who swam frequently, including the Emerald Bay-to-Ritz-Carlton ocean Aquathon last October. He planned to compete in another ocean swim race next weekend, she said.
In the last two years, her husband made dozens of dives and was very familiar with the resurgent kelp beds at Crescent Bay and Shaw’s Cove and had mapped out areas where fishing is restricted around Heisler Park. He made a free dive recently from a kayak at Dana Point’s Strands Beach and last dived in Heisler Park during the April 22 kelp festival, where the couple volunteered for a nonprofit that collects fish surveys compiled by divers.
After reporting her husband’s absence to sheriff’s deputies, Mrs. Brislen started hunting on her own for his car at several of his favorite dive spots before learning that Laguna police spotted the white early 1990s Volvo parked near Diver’s Cove. Inside was the empty container for a Hawaiian sling spear gun and an ice-filled cooler ready for the catch. “He was determined to get a fish,” Mrs. Brislen guessed. “He got skunked on lobster season.”
By the time she arrived, rescue personnel had swarmed the area and a helicopter’s spolight was illuminating the kelp beds. “I just knew that’s where he was,” she said.
The diver, found at Picnic Beach, had no pulse and CPR was performed from the point of rescue, lifeguards said. Laguna Beach firefighter-paramedics continued to try to revive him as he was transported to the beach and to Mission Hospital. “He’d been deceased for awhile,” Mrs. Brislen said she was told.
“Any cause of death is speculation at this point,” said Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow.
A sheriff’s department fireboat, which responded from Newport Harbor, spotted the body about 200 yards off Picnic Beach in water 30 feet deep. Divers with Laguna Beach lifeguards recovered the body, which was only a few feet below the surface, tangled in kelp, according to Snow. Seven lifeguards were on scene, in addition to firefighters and police, searching the water with divers, paddlers, a boat and a sheriff’s helicopter.
Lifeguards, who were in the water within eight minutes of the call to Laguna Beach dispatch, deployed a dive team in an in-line search, said Snow. “We were going to go from the rocks at the north side of Diver’s Cove all the way to Bird Rock. We had people on land, swimmers in the surf line, paddlers outside the surfline, boats beyond that and a helicopter above,” said Snow.
In addition to water sports, Brislen’s wife said he intended to pursue his architectural license once she found another permanent teaching position. The couple have two girls.
Brislen’s mother, Dee, a longtime teacher at Laguna Beach High School who became a cancer-research advocate in retirement, died last October. His father, Andrew Jackson Brislen III, resides in Laguna Niguel.