Rescue teams recover drowning victim at Chatfield State Park
Wednesday morning rescue crews recovered the body of an 18-year-old male victim that drowned Friday, July 31, while swimming at Chatfield State Park.
The victim was located at 8:19 a.m. by sonar and then confirmed by optical video equipment on the ROV (remote-operated vehicle) from a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Marine Evidence Recovery Team vessel. Dive teams from South Metro Fire Rescue and the Denver Fire Department assisted with the recovery of the body from the water and turned the investigation over to the Jefferson County coroner's office.
The body was discovered roughly 50 yards off the shoreline in 17 feet of water.
Rescue crews involved in the search included Colorado Parks and Wildlife Park Rangers, CPW’s Marine Evidence Recovery Team as well as dive teams and emergency personnel from both South Metro and West Metro Fire Rescue, Arapahoe Rescue Patrol, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Denver Fire and Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the family,” said Kris Wahlers, Chatfield State Park Manager. “We are thankful to all the rescue crews who aided in this extensive search and we hope that the recovery of the body will bring a little comfort to the family as they mourn the loss of their loved one.”
The Jefferson County coroner will determine a cause of death and make identification of the victim. The family of the victim was at the state park when the body was removed from the water and has been notified.
"South Metro Fire Rescue's Dive Team utilized a number of resources during the water recovery operation,” said Connor Christian, Public Information Officer with SMFR. “Station 31's Dive Boat is equipped with sonar and electronic searching capabilities for crews to track the areas they have searched using GPS coordinates, to locate targets in the reservoir, and to send divers underwater to get a closer look at the objects recorded on sonar. Weather conditions and water visibility have made this technology extremely useful for South Metro's dive team during this multi-day operation. The SMFR UAV Team and West Metro Fire Rescue used drones over the water recovery to do grid searches, scan the shoreline and to search the shallow water to look for objects out of place creating targets for the divers to focus on. South Metro is appreciative of the coordination and support during the recovery between multiple agencies.”
The victim went underwater around 3:25 p.m. Friday in the Catfish Flats area that is located south of the swim beach on the west side of the state park. The victim was one of two individuals seen struggling swimming in the water - a nearby boat had rescued one of the swimmers, but was unable to recover the other.
The victim was reported to be last seen roughly 60 yards offshore in an area between 18-20 feet of water.
“What was making the area so difficult to search is we go from one-foot, one-and-a-half feet of water, to four to five feet and then it drops off to 18 feet and then it comes up rapidly to one-and-a-half feet,” said Jim Hawkins, CPW’s team leader of the Marine Evidence Recovery Team. “So it is very difficult for us to run our sonar and we are also running into five to six foot tall milfoil… Visibility was pretty poor, between two to three feet.”
CPW’s Marine Evidence Recovery Team utilized underwater ROV’s (remote-operated vehicles), which uses sonar, lights, video camera and a manipulator in searches.
The drowning was the 23rd in the state this year (20 lake-related, three swift water), as we approach the deadliest year on Colorado’s waters in history. The highest number of drownings in a year is 24, recorded in 2019.
“It’s racking up to be a tough year for water fatalities,” said Grant Brown, CPW’s Boating Safety Program Manager. “We’ve seen a lot of people swimming from shore, smaller craft paddling and the biggest thing we are seeing is no life jackets. Either one on board not wearing it or just don’t have one and that is one of the things we are really trying to push is have a life jacket with you and make sure you are wearing it.”