Urban Legends and Beliefs

The scuba diver in the tree

The story: While assessing the damage done by a forest fire in California, authorities were startled to discover the body of a man dressed in a wetsuit, complete with a dive tank, flippers, and face mask, in the branches of a tree. The strangely placed victim had suffered severe burns from the forest fire, but an autopsy revealed that he had not died from the flames, but from massive internal injuries. Dental records provided the victim's identification, and investigators contacted his family in an attempt to learn how a man who was dressed for scuba diving could possibly have ended up in the branches of a tree in the midst of hundreds of acres of charred forest.

According to the horrified family, the victim had been diving in the ocean some 30 miles away from the forest on the day that the fire had gotten out of control. As the investigators pieced together the grim details of the man's death, it became apparent that he had been accidentally scooped up along with thousands of gallons of water by one of a fleet of helitankers that had been called in to help the firefighters. Caught up in one of the huge buckets, the unfortunate scuba diver had been dumped along with the sea water in an attempt to put out the forest fire as quickly as possible.

While this story has been told many times since the late 1980s, there has never been a record of a diver in a scuba outfit being accidentally dumped by helicopter tankers on a forest fire. Authorities point out that while water is sometimes taken from lakes and ocean areas in an effort to extinguish forest fires as rapidly as possible, the helitankers suck up the water by means of a hose only a couple of inches in diameter. No one could be drawn into such a small opening and pulled into the tank.

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