Substitute teacher William Crabb poses in front of a Utah basin, where he participated in a wilderness living course.

New substitute teacher ‘dives’ into classrooms; from recovering dead bodies to fighting fires, Crabb has witnessed it all

Substitute teacher William Crabb poses in front of a Utah basin, where he participated in a wilderness living course.

I almost kissed a dead body!” 

These six words are rarely combined in the same sentence, yet SCDS substitute teacher William Crabb managed to do so. 

He moved to Sacramento in the fall, and has been subbing for all SCDS classes since then. 

Before becoming a sub, Crabb created a painting company, cooked at restaurants, volunteered to fight fires, taught jungle and desert survival classes and was a wilderness guide. 

And he recovered a dead body.

Crabb lived in San Luis Obispo for seven years as a child, but he never stayed in one place long because of his parents’ jobs. 

“Growing up in that kind of environment made me want to travel,” Crabb said.

Crabb’s been to all of mainland Central America, Jamaica, Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Israel and Palestine. 

The colored land masses are places William Crabb has traveled to.
(Graphic by Katia Dahmani)
The colored land masses are places William Crabb has traveled to.

But his one regret is not having learned another language. 

“When you’re in a country, you can learn so fast,” he said. “You just have to be willing to make mistakes.”

While in Costa Rica, Crabb volunteered to join a search-and-recover team and recover a dead body at the base of a waterfall.

“None of my coworkers besides one volunteered to go,” Crabb said. “Everyone was either grossed out or afraid.”

He was recovering a man who had jumped off the waterfall as a dare. 

Crabb said the body had been underwater for a few days before he and his team arrived, so he assumed it would be either tangled in roots or wedged between rocks. 

“We went around the perimeter looking for the body, but it was murky because it was deep, turbulent and all the silt was getting kicked up,” Crabb said. 

“That was everything opposite of what the police told us. They said it was shallow, it was warm, and it had good visibility.”

Consequently, when Crabb and his team arrived at the site, they weren’t prepared. 

“We needed big dive lights, but we had only little dinky ones to use to look in between cracks and roots trying to find this body,” he said. 

After making their way around the perimeter without finding the body, Crabb and his dive partner, Wez, started a U-pattern through the center. 

As Crabb was starting the pattern, he bumped into something.

“There were a bunch of roots and logs underwater, and I was kind of hoping that what I bumped into was going to be something like that, but just the way it felt – it didn’t feel like the rocks or roots I bumped into previously,” Crabb said.

His flashlight wasn’t providing enough light, so he tapped Wez and asked him to shine his, and there was the body.

“Thankfully his back was to me because I did not want to look at his face, and he was kneeling with mud up to his thigh,” Crabb said. 

Crabb took a lift bag (a dive bag that when filled with air, floats to the surface and signals to boats that there are divers underneath), and tied it around the body. After filling the lift bag with air, the body shot up to the surface. 

Crabb then started swimming to the surface. However, he soon saw fins and felt a rope sliding across his face. 

It was his boss dragging the dead body. 

“I frantically tried to swim out of the way. Wez saw this, he grabbed me and he pulled me down, and the dead body went inches away from my face,” Crabb said.  

“We were hysteric. I almost kissed a dead body! I was freaking out.”

But Crabb’s boss was upset. There was a dead body coming to shore, half the town was there, and it was supposed to be a solemn moment. 

“He ended up cursing at us in Dutch,” Crabb said.

Crabb also took outdoor education classes during his undergrad years for fun. 

Crabb holds a Pacific red octopus while leading a snorkel trip for a group of tourists in Alaska.
(Photo used by permission of Crabb)
Crabb holds a Pacific red octopus while leading a snorkel trip for a group of tourists in Alaska.

He used the skills he developed to find work, starting as a diver. He learned and eventually taught kayaking, backpacking, survival, stand-up paddle boarding and ropes courses. 

Crabb has taught different kinds of people in his survival classes, including tourists, sports teams, businesses, autistic children, at-risk youth, students and researchers.  

“Tourists usually sign up for outdoor activities for the novelty and fun, and businesses and sports teams go for team building and communication,” Crabb said. 

“Autistic programs are therapeutic, at-risk ones are for growth and development, and wildlife researcher and student ones are intensive courses to improve skills.”

In the beginning, Crabb takes his students out on small weekend trips to practice. Then they go out for two weeks. 

They bring dehydrated or freeze-dried food that is high in calories. Because they can’t bring two weeks worth of water, filters and iodine are also needed to treat the water they find.

Although Crabb has been around the world, he hasn’t been to Europe. He says he’ll visit those countries when he’s older.

“I’m young and willing to do more reckless things,” Crabb said. “I could be 50 or 60 years old and still enjoy Europe.”

In the mountains of northern Thailand, Crabb went backpacking and visited some of the tribes living there.

While visiting the Karen tribe, he went bat hunting.

“The guy that I went hunting with is the elder of that village, and we (played) games by candlelight at night to pass time,” Crabb said. 

“We had a blast, and we ended up having dinner together.” 

Assuming he wouldn’t like traditional food, the tribes served him dishes for tourists. 

“I would ask, ‘What are you guys eating? I want some of that,’” Crabb said.

It was there that Crabb sampled a bat, which he said was weird because there wasn’t much meat on the bones.

“I was asking them about where they get these bats,” he said. “They pointed to this cave that they go to and use big nets to knock these bats down, and asked if I could join them.

“They were happy that I was willing to try to learn some of their words and try to communicate. That’s the best way to experience something new. Try to step off the beaten path.” 

But now that he’s married and bought a house, Crabb may have to settle for a less exciting adventure – subbing! 

—By Allison Zhang

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