Mendocino County sheriff’s officials identified a kayaker found dead Monday night on a secluded beach near Van Damme State Park as a 65‑year‑old Fort Bragg man.

Searchers spotted the body of Donald Paul Strauss about 10:40 p.m. at a beach accessed by a sea cave south of the state park. His white kayak was found nearby.

It’s unclear how he died, officials said. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.

Strauss, described as an experienced kayaker who routinely paddled that stretch of coastline, had gone out alone earlier Monday in a black wetsuit and had a flotation device, officials said. He’d paddled from Van Damme Beach, just south of Mendocino.

Just before 9 p.m. his wife called the Sheriff’s Office to report he was overdue, Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten said.

Authorities immediately launched an extensive search effort involving 16 Mendocino volunteer firefighters, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, Albion firefighters, Cal Fire, state park rangers, Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies and paramedics. But it was dark, and searchers didn’t know which direction he’d gone.

Mendocino volunteers put two jet skis and a rescue boat in the water, while teams on foot headed up and down the bluffs, said Sally Swan, engineer and EMT with the Mendocino fire company.

Southbound searchers stopped at a home near the cliff edge, seeking to use the cliffside deck for a better view. Vacation renters there agreed, telling firefighters they had seen a light‑colored kayak go into the caves about 2:30 p.m. but hadn’t seen the person paddle out. Unfamiliar with the area, the renters didn’t know if there was another exit, Swan said.

Firefighters set up on the deck, pointing strong lights below and directed those on the water toward the caves. Lights from a jet ski heading into a cave illuminated a body on the beach and the kayak, Swan said.

Firefighters set up equipment to rappel down the cliff, but a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter ultimately recovered the body.

Mendocino volunteer firefighters have a robust program with regular training on ocean and cliff rescues. They recently obtained strong lighting for their jet skis and helmets to help with night and cave rescues, Swan said.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.