Correll Rambo picked a calm, clear day to SCUBA dive off Thousand Steps where lobster and fish congregate in the ropes of kelp, but then the seaweed twisted around his gear and held him fast. He couldn’t reach his dive knife on his belt. “The psi on his oxygen tank was at 1,000, and he knew he wasn’t in deep water,” said City Fire Battalion Chief Mike de Ponce. “But then it got to 500 psi, which is starting to get into the emergency reserve.” People on shore began to notice the turbulence Rambo was kicking up — they thought it might be a shark and called 9-1-1. A paddleboarder passing by thought he could hear some kind of screaming.
A Harbor Patrol boat responded to the beach off Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood, as did three engines and a truck company. Riding over on one of the trucks was Firefighter Mike Billgren, who grew up in these waters and is part of City Fire’s rescue swimmers, said de Ponce. He dove in with the unnamed paddleboarder and three beachgoers — Henry Oh, Chris Orth, and Kyle Sieglein — who were trying to free Rambo from the kelp. Between them, they got the diver up to the surface and his gear back to shore.
De Ponce said he had to laugh when he saw the photo of Rambo and his rescuers. “Mike was a professional surfer before he became a firefighter,” de Ponce said. “He gives everyone the ‘shaka bra.'” Of the little lobsters brought up to shore, de Ponce said, any undersize ones were put back in the water.