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Diver found dead in Lake Erie identified as underwater explorer

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A 70-year-old man found dead last week in Lake Erie has been identified as Dave VanZandt, an underwater explorer who went missing while diving to a recently-discovered shipwreck, authorities and his nonprofit organization said.

VanZandt was the founder, director and chief archaeologist at Cleveland Underwater Explorers, which studies and documents shipwrecks and other sunken artifacts in the Great Lakes. Its team of researchers, archaeologists and divers focus particularly on Lake Erie, with the organization based in the area around that lake's southern shore, according to its website. 

Although VanZandt's employee biography lists him as "semi-retired" from his roles at Cleveland Underwater Explorers, he still participated in some of their projects and on Saturday had embarked on his first trip of the year, the organization wrote in a Facebook post announcing his death. While "diving on a newly found shipwreck," Cleveland Underwater Explorers said that VanZandt "failed to return to the boat and suffered a fatal diving accident." Neither the organization nor the authorities that recovered his body shared details about what exactly happened to him during the dive.

"Our condolences to his wife and family," the nonprofit's Facebook post read.

The United States Coast Guard initially confirmed that a 70-year-old man was missing in Lake Erie at around 4 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon. The agency said crews were searching for a recreational diver in the lake, about 6 miles off of Cleveland along the coast. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and an Erie County dive team eventually joined   the search, but local divers from nearby Lake County were the ones who found VanZandt in the end.

"At 7:45 local, divers from Lake County recovered a body & confirmed it to be the missing man," said USCG Great Lakes in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday evening.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office identified the body as VanZandt, of Lakewood, after it was recovered from the water near Cleveland's East 9th Street pier, the Fox affiliate WJW reported, citing the medical examiner. CBS News contacted the medical examiner's office but did not receive an immediate reply.

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