Scuba Diver’s Body Discovered, 17 Years After His Disappearance

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Jeff Rotman

On July 10, 1994, Donald Christopher Windecker set out for a dive in Lake Tahoe. He never returned. (via Los Angeles Times)

At the time of his disappearance, Windecker was a 44-year-old former city planner from Reno and a married father of two young children. With a friend, he set out to explore the deep waters of Tahoe, but began to sink—along with his equipment—as the pair started to ascend. His friend reported that Windecker was quickly submerging with his respirator out of his mouth, and that he couldn’t save him because he was forced to surface when he ran out of air.

Despite rescue attempts, the body was never found. Until now.

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Almost two decades later, an unidentified group of “mixed-gas” divers discovered Windecker’s body while exploring cliff walls almost 300 feet below the surface. Days after the July 23 sighting, a remote-controlled mini-submarine with a robotic claw pulled the scuba diver’s body from the underwater shelf on the lake’s west side. Dental records confirmed it was Windecker.

The diver’s remains, still contained in a wetsuit and buckled with scuba gear and an air tank, were in amazing physical condition and remarkably preserved, Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Byers told Reuters. But, “very obviously he was deceased.”

A thorough autopsy will be conducted, said Byers, who presumes the diver suffered a heart attack or stroke, or simply ran out of air. El Dorado County Sheriff’s Lt. Bryan Golmitz added that there were no signs of trauma. “We’re not investigating this as a homicide,” Golmitz said.

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States and the tenth deepest in the world, with a maximum depth measured at 1,645 feet. It has swallowed divers before, and some remain missing.

The freshwater mountain lake, located along the border of California and Nevada, has a storied legacy—one that boasts theories about lava tubes and underwater tunnels that connect Tahoe to the nearby Pyramid Lake. Other persistent tales claim that those lurking below include the bodies of 19th century Chinese railroad laborers and mobsters, along with a lake monster named “Tahoe Tessie.”

Many of these stories have been debunked, but Byers admits that Windecker’s discovery is a chilling Tahoe tale.

“From a pathological standpoint it’s pretty incredible,” he said. “It’s a little spooky.”

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Kai Ma is a TIME contributor. Find her on Twitter at @Kai_Ma or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.