PORT ANGELES — A commercial geoduck harvesting area in the Strait of Juan de Fuca 6.4 miles east of Ediz Hook has been shut down until Tuesday following a diver’s death, a state Department of Natural Resources spokesperson said Thursday.
Port Angeles resident Anthony Glen Gockerell, 35, the father of four children, died early Wednesday after his air cable apparently became entangled, Sgt. John Keegan said in a press release.
Jamaal Byre of Olympia, who said he was Gockerell’s close friend, was diving in Olympia and heard bits and pieces as the incident unfolded on a radio frequency shared by other commercial divers.
“He was a family man,” Byre said, adding Gockerell has a child on the way.
“He lived for his kids, and he lived for the mother of his [children]. That was his driving force.”
Gockerell, tethered by air, heat and communications cables, was the only diver in vicinity of the popular Dungeness West geoduck tract managed by DNR, Keegan said Thursday.
Gockerell was diving in 70 feet of water.
DNR spokesperson Joe Smillie said Thursday in an email that fishery operations in the area have been temporarily shut down “in part to allow divers a break to process the situation and to let an expected storm blow through before harvest resumes.”
Gockerell was employed by a subcontractor for Kent-based Grayzone Seafood & Trade LLC, which holds the harvesting permit.
Peninsula Communications received a 9-1-1 call about a commercial diver in distress at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Keegan said in a press release.
Gockerell, diving from a 32-foot commercial fishing vessel, said to his crew once through his communications apparatus, “unable to clear,” Keegan said Thursday.
The crew mates and DNR staff on hand to monitor the harvesting struggled for two minutes to pull him loose before he was freed, Keegan said.
CPR was performed as the boat took Gockerell from the dive site to the Port Angeles Boat Haven Marin and was continued by Port Angeles Fire Department personnel before they arrived at Olympic Medical Center, where Gockerell was pronounced dead at 9:46 a.m.
Keegan said an autopsy will be performed and that the incident is being investigated.
Smillie said DNR has several harvest tracts in the area and that 70 feet is not an unusual depth to dive for geoduck.
Grayzone owner Jason Li said Gockerell was an experienced diver but did not know him well.
“He seemed like a nice guy,” Li said Thursday.
“I spoke with the captain, and he feels really bad about it. He said he wants to be left alone for a few weeks just to process things.”
Byre said there is a bond among commercial divers who risk their lives in a dangerous environment and must be productive, a link he and Gockerell had in extra measure.
“Tony and I, we shared that same excitement for diving. That’s what really connected us,” he said.
“We supported each other and we confided in each other and we gave each other strength and hope to continue to keep fighting and be better divers.”
Three divers among 33 who work the regional fishery have died in three years engaging in one of the most dangerous jobs around, Byre said.
“Every time you jump in the water, it’s a crap-shoot,” Byre said.
“There are so many variables that we face. We know the consequences.
“It’s a close-knit community, and everyone is in pain.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].