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American Diver Surfaces, Then Vanishes Off Cayman Islands

iStock/Thinkstock(SEVEN MILE BEACH, Grand Cayman) -- The search to rescue a North Carolina tourist who disappeared while scuba diving in the Cayman Islands was changed Tuesday to "recovery" phase because officials no longer believe he could be alive.

David Byles, 57, of Pinehurst, N.C., was scuba diving with his wife as part of an organized group dive off Seven Mile Beach on Sunday when he disappeared between the time he surfaced around 10:20 a.m. and the 100-yard swim to the party's awaiting boat, according to Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

"We're now in our third day of searching and it's extremely unlikely that Mr. Byles will be found alive," Inspector Ian Yearwood, commander for the Police Marine unit, told ABC News while on board one of the search-and-recovery boats. "We've informed his wife, but obviously as each day goes by the chances grow slimmer."

"We do not see any suspicious circumstances in this case," Yearwood added.

Byles' diving equipment, including a tank and buoyancy control device along with an article of clothing, have been recovered by police near Barracuda Reef.

None of the 14 other people in the diving party, including two instructors, had noticed Byles was missing until they had re-boarded the boat. Byles' wife, Rita, thought he had boarded ahead of her but raised the alarm after discovering he was no longer with the group, officials said.

After the boat crew failed to find any trace of Byles in the immediate area, police launched a search-and-rescue operation, which turned into a search-and-recovery operation Tuesday afternoon.

Twenty-eight people are currently involved in the search, including 13 divers and 15 police personnel.

Sunset House, a resort that operates dives where David and Rita Byles were staying, told ABC News that there was no indication that Byles was in distress when he surfaced, and that all reports from family and friends indicated he was in "great health."

"This is just completely unexpected," Sunset House General Manager Keith Sahm said. "The thing that's really aggravating is that it's not like anything happened to him under the water....He surfaced and then he was gone."

Sahm said that Byles was a "very confident" certified open water diver who had previously been on a diving trip with the company last October.

A family friend and member of the Trinity Christian Fellowship church in Pinehurst said David Byles was chairman of the church council, and that Rita Byles works as an office administrator.

“They’re a very dynamic couple. They're outgoing, friendly, vivacious, energetic - all those things that you could possibly think of,” said Claudia Watson. “David was very much a leader in everything.”

David Byles was an IT consultant and semi-professional drummer who played with several Pinehurst jazz groups.

The water was slightly choppy on Sunday morning at the dive site, but conditions were OK, Sahm said.

Byles' wife is still staying at the resort, but told Sahm she may be returning home on Wednesday after speaking with the American consulate in the Cayman Islands.

"Trying to second guess what happened -- that's exactly what it would be – second guessing and speculation," said Sahm. "It's a complete mystery."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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