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Scuba diver's body found after 17 years

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Scuba diver's body found after 17 years

Man disappeared while swimming in Lake Tahoe

Authorities at Lake Tahoe have identified the remains of a scuba diver who disappeared in the lake's waters 17 years ago.

Donald Christopher Windecker's well-preserved body was found July 23 on an underwater shelf, 265 feet below the surface, The Los Angeles Times reports. A remote-controlled mini-submarine with a robotic claw brought the remains to the surface on July 27, and dental records were used to confirm Windecker's identity. 

"His remains are in amazing physical condition," El Dorado County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Byers told the Times, attributing the preservation to 35-degree water and water pressure. "We'll be able to do a thorough autopsy. He may have had a heart attack or a stroke or maybe just ran out of air. Hopefully we'll determine what happened."

Windecker's body was still wearing the wetsuit, weight belt and air tank he had on July 10, 1994, when the 44-year-old former city planner from Reno, Nevada went scuba diving in the lake with a friend. They planned to dive to a depth of 100 feet, but something went wrong. Toward the end of the dive, the Times reports, Windecker apparently had trouble with his equipment, and began to sink. His friend tried to help, but then began running out of air and had to leave Windecker behind.

17 years went by before a group of "mixed gas" divers, who can safely dive to about 350 feet, discovered Windecker's body. The divers went down to explore cliff walls, but found a person instead.

"It was pretty scary for them," Byers said. "They were wondering, 'What's this person doing down here?'"

Friends and former colleagues of Windecker told The Reno Gazette-Journal they were surprised he'd been found.

"It's been a long time. I guess it's kind of surprising, especially after all these years," Vern Kloos, a Reno city planner, said. "He was an outgoing person. He always had a positive attitude."

El Dorado County officials told the Times that Windecker had no close relatives, but Mike Ramos, who once worked with Windecker for the city of Reno, told the Gazette-Journal that Windecker had a wife and two small children, who have since moved out of state:

Ramos said that the morning Windecker left to go diving, he left his son a candy bar and note thanking him for being a good boy.

"That was the last thing he did for (the child)," Ramos said. "Something like that you don't forget too soon."

Although Windecker's body has been recovered, the Times reports that four other divers remain missing in the area of Lake Tahoe where he was found.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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