Aspen man’s body recovered in Florida Keys
pitkin county correspondent
Searchers have found what they believe to be the body of Christopher Smith, an Aspen man missing for three days in the waters off the Florida Keys.
The family of the missing man found the body just offshore of Duck Key about 3 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. The discovery happened after the U.S. Coast Guard, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies had called off their official search about noon Florida time, or 10 a.m. Mountain time.
According to friends of the family, the sheriff’s office ” and subsequently The Aspen Times website for a brief time Thursday ” incorrectly reported that a private investigator the family hired had found the body. The family actually had dismissed the investigator on Wednesday and, when the official search was called off, had gone out with friends on its own search.
Smith’s three children from a previous marriage, all of whom are young adults, flew down to Florida earlier this week with his wife, Toni Zurcher, and family friends Peter and Shari Hutter, to help with the search effort. All that group was together when they found the body not far from where the boat had drifted.
After about three hours, according to family friend Bob Wade of Aspen, they came upon the body floating in the waters off Duck Key around 3 p.m. Florida time.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Greg Artman said a positive identification of the body would not be officially confirmed until the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office performs an autopsy, and that he was not sure when that would occur. Shari Hutter, who was present at the discovery of the body, conclusively identified it as Smith’s.
Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard, the sheriff’s department and other agencies had been searching since Tuesday, when they found Smith’s boat was found adrift in the water off nearby Long Key, which is about midway along the 110-mile chain of islands.
Smith, 57, was a longtime Aspenite and the former owner of Aspen Earthmoving, where he continued to work in an advisory capacity.
News reports indicated that Zurcher talked with her husband on Monday, June 25, and that Smith’s 20-foot Boston Whaler was expected back in port Monday evening but did not show up.
The boat reportedly was idling and drifting Tuesday morning in shallow water a few miles north of Long Key. It was not damaged, according to the Coast Guard. Smith’s vehicle was found on Wednesday, parked at the nearby Seabird Marina.
The Coast Guard described a search that lasted more than 48 hours and covered more than 1,590 square miles near Long Key and throughout Florida Bay, the body of water north of the Keys and west of the Florida mainland.
Aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater and Coast Guard Air Station Miami, as well as rescue boats from Coast Guard Station Marathon, Station Islamorada, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office supported the search and rescue effort.
John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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