Body recovery effort underway near Devil’s Punchbowl on Independence Pass
Lincoln Creek set to zero outflow to aid search, with ‘substantial drop off’ in water downstream
Responders will continue a search and body recovery effort Thursday morning for a male who fell into the Devil’s Punchbowl area of the Roaring Fork River on Independence Pass and never resurfaced midday Wednesday, according to a press release and interviews with Parker Lathrop, the chief deputy of operations at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, and
Dispatch received a call around noon Wednesday of a “potential swiftwater rescue into the Punchbowl” and subsequently sent out responders from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Aspen Fire Department, Aspen Ambulance District and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority, Lathrop said.
Before responders arrived at the scene, “It was reported that a person had gone into the Punchbowl and hadn’t been seen since,” Lathrop said.
A news release from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office that was sent out just after 11 p.m. Wednesday indicated that dispatch had “received a report that a male had fallen into an area of the Roaring Fork River known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl” and “it was reported that the subject was swept into the Devil’s Punch Bowl and never resurfaced.”
Responders arrived around 12:18 p.m. according to the release.
“After approximately three hours of searching, efforts shifted from search and rescue to search and recovery, at this time the Pitkin County Incident Management Team (PCIMT) was called to assist in the management of the incident,” the release states.
“We’ve now commenced recovery operations,” Lathrop said in a phone call around 6:10 p.m. Wednesday. “We have not yet located the individual.”
Searchers had not yet found the body as the sun was setting Wednesday so search efforts concluded for the night and would pick up “first thing in the morning” on Thursday, Lathrop said in a later phone call around 8:30 p.m.
Starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Highway 82 was closed in both directions due to emergency vehicle operations between mile marker 47 at the closure gate and mile marker 52, just past Lincoln Creek, according to a Pitkin County traffic alert. The road reopened by just after 8 p.m., according to another alert. Another closure on just the eastbound lane took place earlier today.
The swimming hole and cliff-jumping spot is located near the Grottos day-use area near mile marker 50 on Highway 82, about 9 miles east of downtown Aspen.
The the search and recovery effort is focused on the area between the Punchbowl to “just below Weller Lake Bridge” downstream, according to Lathrop. That’s the area where responders have found bodies in past incidents, he said.
“We hate to say there’s a history of it, but there’s a history of it,” Lathrop said.
The safety of responders is the priority at this point, according to Lathrop. The Pitkin County press relese indicates that the Pitkin County Incident Management Team also “was called to assist in the management of the incident.”
To assist the search effort, the Lincoln Creek outflow has been turned off at Grizzly Reservoir so there isn’t any water flowing into the creek, according to Lathrop. As of Wednesday evening, responders were still waiting for some of the water that was already flowing to clear out, which will leave only standing water behind in the search area, he said.
That will allow responders to search the area “with a lot less water,” Lathrop said. The “substantial drop off” in outflow will impact downstream river users.
“People are going to notice a drastic reduction in water in the Roaring Fork (River),” Lathrop said, with “almost no water going into Stillwater” at the North Star Nature Preserve, where people often float down the river.
Lathrop said he could not yet release the identity of the person who was missing.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct how the person ended up in the Devil’s Punchbowl and include details on the timeline for recovery. The person fell in, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office press release issued shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday night. The story has also been updated to reflect that the Pitkin County Incident Management Team also was called in to help.