TWO BUTTES, Colo. — Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers have recovered a body from a pond behind the dam at the Two Buttes Reservoir State Wildlife Area, ending a four-day search for a missing camper.
CPW began its search-and-rescue Monday evening at the wildlife area, 40 miles south of Lamar in far southeast Colorado, after weekend campers reported a member of their group had gone missing late Sunday night while jumping from cliffs into the Black Hole pond.
CPW officers and Baca County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and found the missing man’s SUV with his wallet, cellphone, keys and other personal items. A search of the 8,533-acre wildlife area was initiated. CPW also launched a boat and used a sonar device to scan the water, estimated to be 30 feet deep.
The search broadened Tuesday as four drones, including one with a thermal camera, were launched and flew over the area while volunteers searched on foot. CPW’s expert Marine Evidence Recovery Team (MERT) drove down from Littleton to take over the water search with its boat and submersible drone equipped with sonar, lights and a video camera.
The MERT team continued its grid search of the Black Hole on Wednesday and Thursday. They were joined by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s volunteer dive team, which probed the murky depths of the pond, where visibility was extremely low.
Finally late Thursday night, CPW’s MERT team found the body and completed the recovery with its submersible drone. The Baca County Coroner’s office was notified and took control of the body at the scene as county officials began an investigation.
The coroner will determine a cause of death and make formal identification of the victim as well as notify the next of kin.
“This is a tragedy and we offer our condolences to the family and friends of the victim,” said Todd Marriott, CPW Area Wildlife Manager for the Lamar region. “Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to be injured jumping from the cliffs into the Black Hole. And it’s another sad example why we urge everyone to wear life jackets when in or near the water.”
According to CPW, if a drowning is confirmed, it would be the 17th recreational drowning this year in Colorado. There have been 21 total drownings, including four people who died in July when a flash flood and mudslide in Poudre Canyon swept their home into the Poudre River in Larimer County.
The Two Buttes Reservoir was built from 1910 to 1914 with horse, mule and hand labor by the Two Buttes Irrigation District. In 1970, the irrigation company sold the dam to the Colorado Department of Game, Fish and Parks (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife). The reservoir no longer irrigates any land.
Instead, the reservoir and the land around it are part of the wildlife area, offering hunting, boating and fishing, when the reservoir holds water. It is intermittently dry due to unreliable rain patterns.