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Lifeguard still believes Natalie Wood could have been rescued

November 22, 2011 |  7:42 am

WoodThe lifeguard captain who helped pull Natalie Wood’s body from the water 30 years ago said he still believes the actress could have been saved had officials begun the search for her earlier.

Roger Smith, the former county supervising rescue boat captain, told The Times he hoped the Los Angeles County sheriff’s reopening of her death investigation would answer lingering questions over why lifeguards were not alerted more quickly  when Wood disappeared from a yacht off Santa Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend 1981 during an excursion with her husband, Robert Wagner, and actor Christopher Walken.

The department reopened the investigation last week. The original investigation concluded that Wood's death was an  accidental drowning that occurred when she fell into the water while tying up a loose dinghy.

FULL COVERAGE: Natalie Wood investigation

“Based on the condition of her body when we pulled her from the water, I believe she survived for sometime in the water and was blown out to sea. She probably cried for help for hours,” Smith said in an interview “I’ve always believed she could have been saved. Her fingers were still pliable when she was pulled from the water, suggesting she had not been dead for hours”

Smith said he was alerted at 5:11 a.m. that day that Wood, 43, had gone missing from the yacht Splendour about 200 feet off the Isthmus, 4 hours after she disappeared. A lifeguard boat equipped with all the gear needed to conduct a search had been moored about 100 feet away the whole time, he said.

On the evening of Saturday, Nov. 28, the yacht was anchored at Catalina, where Wood and Wagner had dinner at Doug's Harbor Reef restaurant with Walken, who was then Wood's co-star in the film "Brainstorm" and was spending the holiday weekend with the couple.

Later, according to authorities, the trio returned to the yacht and had drinks, and Wagner and Walken got into an argument. Wagner said in a 2008 interview with The Times that the argument concerned how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career and art.

The men eventually calmed down and said good night, Wagner said, but when he went to bed, Wood wasn't there.


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Natalie Wood investigation prompted by boat captain's comments

-- Richard Winton

Photo: The inflatable dinghy that an investigation concluded that 43-year-old actress Natalie Wood was trying to tie up when she fell into the waters off Santa Catalina Island and drowned in 1981. Credit: Associated Press