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Body of diver missing for 17 years found in Lake Tahoe

August 8, 2011 |  1:32 pm

Scuba diver missing 17 years found in Lake Tahoe
The body of a diver who disappeared 17 years ago in Lake Tahoe's deep, frigid waters has been found, El Dorado County authorities confirmed Monday.

The well-preserved body of Donald Christopher Windecker was discovered July 23 on an underwater shelf, 265 feet below the surface. A remote-controlled mini-submarine equipped with a robotic claw raised the remains on July 27. The recovery occurred on the lake's west side, near Rubicon Point.

Mixed-gas scuba divers, who can safely descend to about 350 feet, were exploring cliff walls when they were startled to see Windecker's motionless form, El Dorado County sheriff's Sgt. Jim Byers said.

Mixed-gas scuba divers can descend much deeper than conventional scuba divers without suffering nitrogen narcosis and other problems. Conventional scuba divers have to stop at about 100 feet.

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

Windecker's body was clad in a wetsuit and buckled into a weight belt and air tank. The scuba gear bore a certification from 1994, officials of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department said. Just beyond the ledge where Windecker's body was discovered, the lake plunges to a depth of 1,645 feet.

News reports at the time of his disappearance described Windecker as a 44-year-old former city planner from Reno, who set out for a dive on July 10, 1994. Accompanied by a friend, Windecker planned to swim to a depth of about 100 feet.

Trouble occurred toward the end of the dive however, when the pair began to ascend. Windecker reportedly suffered difficulty with his equipment and began to sink. His companion tried to help, but began running out of air and was forced to surface.

"His remains are in amazing physical condition," Byers said. "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."

Officials were not able to release Windecker's name until dental records were checked to confirm his identity. Four more divers remain missing in the same general area.

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-- Bob Pool

Photo: Lake Tahoe. Credit: Tony Hicks / Contra Costa Times

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