An 87-year-old man died in a boating accident at Don Pedro Reservoir at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, when he fell from a small boat while attempting to tie up to a houseboat.
According to the Don Pedro Recreation Agency the victim, Harold DePalma, of Ballico, disappeared underwater and did not resurface. The reservoir is owned by the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts.
According to a DPRA report, DePalma was in a small boat with his wife and adult daughter, approaching a houseboat. DePalma then attempted to grab the houseboat's railing, but fell out of the boat and into the water. He was not wearing a life jacket.
DePalma's daughter reported seeing his head bobbing up and down in the water for a few moments, then threw a float cushion to her father. He did not respond, or attempt to grab the float cushion, she said.
The daughter then jumped in the water in hopes of saving her father, but could no longer see him. She swam under the houseboat to try to find him, but was unsuccessful.
Doug King, a bystander on a nearby houseboat, also jumped into the water to search for DePalma to no avail.
It took roughly 30 minutes for Don Pedro officials to respond, in part because of confusion regarding the location of the drowning. The water was between 56 and 75 feet deep at the point where the drowning occurred.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department Dive Team arrived at 2 p.m. after driving from Sonora. A snorkeling deputy was unable to locate the victim at 2:30 p.m., due to poor visibility.
At roughly 5 p.m. the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department arrived with a remotely operated vehicle to search for Harold DePalma's body, but encountered technical problems that prevented a search deeper than 30 feet. The problem was eventually fixed, and the victim was found at 5:57 p.m., 67 feet under water, below the houseboat.
Divers reached DePalma's body at 6:25 p.m., and pulled it to the surface at 6:45 p.m. At the family's request, family members were allowed to view and identify the body.
DePalma was a member of the Ballico-Cressey Elementary School District Board.