Drowning saddens neighborhood


Danna Webster, KP News

A young Tacoma woman was the victim of a drowning accident Labor Day weekend at Palmer Lake. Divers recovered Lan Phong Le-Nguyen’s body about 24 hours after the accident. The 22-year-old was visiting members of her family for a housewarming celebration.

The family of Lan Phong Le-Nguen watches as a search and rescue team is trying to locate the woman after she disappeared under water hours before. Photo by Danna Webster

Divers began their search in a 20-foot diameter around the area where witnesses believed she went under. According to rescue diver Deputy Bruce Johnston of the Pierce County Metro Dive Team, a 16-year-old cousin of the victim was on a blow-up floating island and Le-Nguyen was swimming to the raft with a noodle under each arm because she was a poor swimmer. The cousin grabbed her to help her onto the float but was pulled into the water. That action caused the island to squirt off and the cousin swam to retrieve the island. The cousin held the island and looked back but the woman was gone. No one saw the actual spot and it was difficult to know how far the raft had moved.

Fire District 16 water rescue personnel were first on the scene and searched the surface and shore during what is called the golden hour. That is the time when there is a chance the victim can be revived. After the first hour, the rescue mode shifts to a recovery mode. Four divers from the sheriff’s dive team responded at 2 p.m. and searched until dark. They were unsuccessful. They brought the boat back again the next day, Labor Day Monday.

The sheriff's dive team worked two days to recover the body of the victim. The exact location of the incident was unknown. Divers checked logical points and searched within a 20-foot diameter circle. Photo by Danna Webster

The mood of the neighborhood was somber and still. As family members watched from the porch deck of the lake house, neighbors watched from a pier and along the shore. About 2:30 p.m., two divers were making a final attempt to locate the body. “I went out first, and made four more passes,” Johnston said. Then Deputy Brent Van Dyke went out and saw what he thought was a pink handkerchief, finding the body. She was 150 feet south of the original search area in about 7 feet of water.

The crew was careful to keep the body from the view of the family and asked them to return to the house rather than watch the recovery. Johnston said the family was very helpful and considerate of their work through the entire effort.

Ten members of the Pierce County Metro Dive Team dive team worked on this recovery effort. Two Key Peninsula divers, Deputy Brian Stepp and Officer Joshua Boyd, are members of that team but neither was on duty at the time of the accident. The recovery effort took a total of 80 hours worth of work.