The body of a British journalist believed to have been killed by a crocodile has been found in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan police said the body of 24-year-old Paul McClean, who worked for the Financial Times, had been recovered a day after he was seen being dragged into a lagoon by a crocodile.
James Lamont, the FT’s managing editor, said: “Our thoughts are with his family, friends and loved ones. We are in touch with them, doing all we can to help during this difficult time.”
Lamont described McClean as “a talented, energetic and dedicated young journalist” who had “a great career ahead of him at the FT”.
Divers found McClean’s body in the mud of a lagoon in the coastal village of Panama, 225 miles (360km) east of the capital, Colombo.
“There were six or seven wounds on his right leg,” a police official told the Agence France-Presse news agency. “The body was stuck in mud at about the same place where he was seen last by some others who were with him.”
A postmortem examination later on Friday will formally establish the cause of death.
McClean was on holiday in Sri Lanka with friends. Witnesses told reporters he had wandered away to find a toilet when he stumbled into an area known to be infested with crocodiles. He had been taking surfing lessons and was pulled into the water while washing his hands, they claimed.
Other holidaymakers alerted police after McClean disappeared and a search was mounted with the help of navy divers.
A Scottish tourist, who was on holiday in the area and wished to remain anonymous, said: “A British tourist was at a surf spot called Elephant Rock. There’s a lagoon right next to the sea. He went to the toilet next to the lagoon and was grabbed by a crocodile.
“There are lots in the lagoon. People last saw his arms in the air in the water and then was grabbed under. I was there but didn’t see it happen though. Horrible … They are 90% sure it was a crocodile but a couple of the guys said there was quicksand in the lagoon.”
Fawas Lafeer, the owner of Safa Surf School, located up the coast from where the incident happened, said witnesses saw a crocodile take McClean. He said: “He went in the jungle, about 800 metres. It was when he was washing his hands that the crocodile took him.
“There is a river connected to Elephant Rock, and he went in the river. They can’t do anything because the river is deep and murky, it is not very clear. They have sent out the navy, army and the task force.”
Lafeer heard about it from locals who said they saw what happened. He said: “Two [fishermen] saw the incident. This is the first time anything like this has happened, Elephant Rock is always safe to surf.”
Sean Carroll, from Australia, wrote on Facebook: “A croc just took a tourist bloke in Sri Lanka. He was walking on a beach where a small river meets the sea, it’s named Crocodile Rock for that reason obviously.”
McClean and his friends had reportedly been staying at the East Beach Surf Resort, in the south-east of Sri Lanka and had been taking surfing lessons at Elephant Bay when the incident happened on Thursday afternoon.
A colleague at the FT told the newspaper: “We’re all totally stunned. He was a great kid, an Everton fan, super bright. It’s an absolute tragedy.”
McClean graduated from Oxford with a first-class honours degree in French. He had worked as a reporter for the newspaper for two years – his first job following his graduation. He covered the EU and Brexit, having spent a couple of months living in Brussels this year.
A friend, who asked not to be named, described McClean – whom she met at university – as “very smiley and smart”. She told the Guardian: “He was an incredibly lovely, considerate person. Everyone really liked Paul – he was very easy to like – and he was doing really terrific work at the FT.”
She added: “He was just a very decent human being.”
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are assisting the family of a British man who has been reported missing in Sri Lanka.”
Crocodile attacks are rare in Sri Lanka. However, earlier this month, wildlife authorities reported that a crocodile had seriously injured a wild elephant in the south of the island. During monsoon floods in May, authorities warned people in inundated areas to beware of stray crocodiles.