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Famed King Coroner LA Medical Examiner DR. THOMAS NOGUCHI reveals the grim details of the last seconds of NATALIE WOOD’s life as she gasped for air in the choppy waters off Catalina Island.
In his book, “Coroner”, Noguchi recreated the last desperate moments of Natalie’s fight for life.
Noguchi who was working for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office that chilly November was the first in the world to recreate the events leading up to the beloved superstar’s drowning death.
“On the night of November 28, 1981, Natalie Wood, her husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken – their guest…dined at Doug’s Harbor Reef on Catalina Island and then returned to spend the night on Splendour, the Wagner’s yacht,” Noguchi wrote.
Strangely enough, Noguchi pointed out, Paul Miller, a deputy coroner and their resident “consultant on ocean accidents – was the captain of a schooner moored to the right of the Wagner’s yacht the night of the tragedy.”
In Noguchi’s opinion, “never had the Chief Medical Examiner’s office had a more perfectly positioned expert at the scene of an accident.”
Miller was the first to respond to R.J. Wagner’s desperate call for help.
Because of the number of boats and yachts moored in close vicinity over the long Thanksgiving weekend, parties were in full swing and over the blaring rock music filling the night air no one heard Natalie’s cries for help when she fell overboard into the cold dark waters.
Even Paul Miller, the Deputy Coroner, who was captaining a ship nearby saw and heard nothing. He had seen Natalie “buzz to shore in her little rubber dinghy” earlier in the day --- twice – alone.
Not only that but “a cold piercing ran swept over Isthmus Bay, pummeling the faces of those going ashore” but the sea was NOT rough.
About 7 PM the Wagner party, Natalie, RJ, and Walken had come ashore to dine.
Noguchi wrote, “Natalie, Wagner and Walker were gaily drinking champagne” and the restaurant owner was worried that the party might not make it back to the yacht.
But they did.
What happened afterwards has been the nexus of conflicting stories over the years.
Recently, after a new book co-written by the Splendour captain was published , public outcry forced a new investigation on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy in 2011. But after months of rampant speculation, LAPD investigators quietly closed the case.
But Noguchi, in his analysis of the case based on water current and wind patterns, believed that Natalie didn’t just fall overboard and immediately drown. She was in the dinghy and then slipped into the frigid waters.
She clung for dear life to the rubber dinghy but couldn’t climb back in because of the rubber dinghy was smooth and she couldn’t get a grasp.
As the music blared, no one heard her cries.
Her water soaked jacket weighed her down as she attempted to rise from death’s embrace.
“Natalie Wood fought for her life in that cold November ocean,” Noguchi wrote. “She did not give up. Instead, she began to perform a feat that was both unique and gallant.”
He speculated that she attempted to steer the dinghy she was clinging to back into the wind, that would sweep her back to the vicinity of the Splendour and the other boats.
She desperately paddled the water with her free arm, kicking desperately.
But hypothermia crept through her exhausted frail body.
Paddling desperately, approaching closer and closer to the beach – 400 – 350 yards away -- she finally lost consciousness and , “then finally her last feeble grip on the boat.
“She sank beneath the waves and drowned.”
Ironically, the dinghy Natalie so “courageously maneuvered for a mile” made it safely to the beach where it was discovered by investigators lapping the beach in the breakers.