Crews recover body of man who fell into Devil’s Punchbowl

Man identified Thursday as 63-year-old Steven Scott Midlarsky

Kaya Williams
Aspen Times

ASPEN — After a continued search and recovery effort on Thursday, responders recovered the body of a man who had fallen into the Devil’s Punchbowl on Wednesday and never resurfaced, according to Parker Lathrop, the deputy chief of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

Crews fully recovered the body of 63-year-old Steven Scott Midlarsky around 2:45 p.m. Thursday, Lathrop said in an interview around 4:20 p.m. Midlarsky used to live in Aspen and his driver’s license indicated that he was a Florida resident, Lathrop said.

Midlarsky’s body was located about 8 feet below the surface of the Devil’s Punchbowl; the body never moved past that point but it was “not visible from the surface regardless of the water level,” Lathrop said.

Searchers used probing and a camera to find the body. A Twitter post from the sheriff’s office indicated that crews found him around 10 a.m. Thursday.

When they recovered the body they were able to “immediately make the confirmation of ID,” Lathrop said.

Rescuers had cleared the scene by the time the sheriff’s office posted the tweet about the recovery just after 4 p.m.

As of about 4:20 p.m. officials were still piecing together how the man fell into the Devil’s Punchbowl, which is a swimming hole near the Grottos about 9 miles east of downtown Aspen.

“He wasn’t jumping, he was fully clothed,” Lathrop said.

Dispatch received the call just after noon on Wednesday for a potential swift-water rescue and response resources from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Aspen Fire Department, Aspen Ambulance District and Roaring Fork Rescue Authority arrived at the scene by 12:18 p.m. according to a Pitkin County news release sent out just after 11 p.m. Wednesday.

“While swift-water rescue teams established a likely downstream containment point and began a thorough search of the river and shore, on-scene resources worked quickly to capture first-hand accounts of where the subject may have entered the river,” the release states.

That’s when the eastbound lane of Highway 82 closed at mile marker 47 near the winter closure gate “so that the first responders could safely work along the roadway,” 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. The highway was closed in both directions Wednesday evening for emergency vehicle operations.

Shutting the release gates at Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek reduced the flow of water into the Roaring Fork River, since Lincoln Creek feeds into the Roaring Fork. It took a bit of time for water that was already in the river to flow out of the search area, and “with lower water levels in the river” the search resumed around 6 p.m.

“After an additional two hours of searching and the loss of daylight” on Wednesday, responders suspended the search and recovery around 8 p.m. and started back up again Thursday morning.

The release gates remained shut for the duration of the search to reduce water levels in the Roaring Fork River until the search was complete. The river did not end up totally dry in Aspen; Lathrop said around 4:20 p.m. that his next call was to request that the gates be reopened and that water levels would be back up within about eight hours.

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