James Okkerse, 62-year-old is dead, possibly after being attacked by an alligator, after disappearing for a short time while swimming Monday morning at Blue Spring State Park.
The Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office in Florida has ruled his death as being consistent with an alligator attack, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
The four-metre alligator had previously been spotted in the area, and officials had been forced to close a swimming area the weekend before Okkerse’s death. Officials say the animal was killed because of the threat it posed to park guests.
James Okkerse, who had been snorkelling with friends, was found near the alligator following several hours of searching.
Carol Anen and her husband, who had been snorkelling with Okkerse, reported him missing, according to US news station Fox 35.
The trio met weekly to swim in the park, with Anen reportedly describing Okkerse as a “very strong swimmer” and a “healthy” man, WFTV reported.
James Okkerse was wearing a mask and a snorkel when he vanished.
Anen said: “I went up to the hole to see where he was and I saw him floating along, I thought he was diving.
“When I got there, he totally disappeared.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Lenny Salberg would not say if there were signs of an alligator attack during a press briefing on Monday, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
He said: “I don’t know if there were bite marks on the body or not. We found the body on the bottom.”
Officials have confirmed that Okkerse was not missing any limbs, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Park rangers knew Okkerse because he had been swimming at Blue Spring, which is known for attracting manatees during the winter with its warm water, for more than 20 years.
Lenny Salberg of Florida Fish and Wildlife said: “If you got any kind of wild animal, alligator or whatever, that’s being aggressive to you, you need to pull back and call law enforcement and FWC.”