Body of George Aldrich found under Maroon Creek Bridge; coroner rules death 'was accidental'
Three volunteers for Mountain Rescue Aspen made the discovery just days after the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office called off official field operations in the Aldrich case. The searchers did not give up looking, however, due to a commitment they made to the 28-year-old man's family in Rhode Island.
The area's terrain — full of rocks, depressions, tall bushes and a good deal of snow — complicated the search. So did Aldrich's clothing, which, authorities noted, camouflaged him amid the natural surroundings.
“It was not obvious at all,” said Mountain Rescue Aspen's Doug Paley, confirming that search crews had previously scoured the immediate area where Aldrich was found on the first day they searched, Nov. 30.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said it was hard to see the body from a distance of even six feet.
“While the area was searched multiple times, I firmly believe we did all we could under the circumstances,” he said. “We were actually very fortunate to discover him.”
There are two bridges spanning Maroon Creek: a historic trestle originally constructed in 1888 that no longer supports cars, and the newer one that finished in spring 2008 and now carries Highway 82. Sheriff's Deputy Alex Burchetta said Aldrich was found underneath the new bridge's center section. His body was partially covered in snow by the time searchers found him at about 2:30 p.m. yesterday.
Bill Linn, the assistant chief at the Aspen Police Department, said there was “nothing at the scene that indicates anything other than an accident." Even so, earlier today, police said they were treating the incident like a homicide investigation.
Aldrich did have his wallet on him, police said, and there were no discernible tracks near his body. The Maroon Creek Bridge is listed at 90 feet high.
The Pitkin County Coroner's Office released a report Tuesday night that declared Aldrich's death was accidental.
"The cause of death was multiple trauma blunt force injury secondary to a fall from the Maroon Creek Bridge. The manner of death was accidental. Toxicology is pending," the report stated.
Aldrich disappeared the night of Nov. 27, about a month after he had moved to Snowmass Village.
He worked a shift as a lift operator on that Saturday before going to his apartment in Club Commons and heading to Aspen for the free Blind Melon concert in gondola plaza. He later went to Eric's Bar.
A video taken on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus shows him getting off at the Truscott stop shortly before 10:30 p.m. A witness said that Aldrich told her he had gotten off at the wrong stop. He indicated to her that he was going to try to catch a bus, walk or possibly try to hitchhike home.
The Maroon Creek Bridge is a short walk from Truscott.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Linn, the assistant police chief, told reporters that it was “bitterly cold” the night Aldrich went missing and an Internet report indicated the temperature that night reached 12 degrees below zero.
A National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction, however, told Real Aspen today that the low temperature at the Aspen airport on Nov. 27 was six degrees above zero and on Nov. 28 the low was 10 degrees.
When Aldrich failed to show up for work, a missing persons report was filed on Nov. 29. A search utilizing dogs, a helicopter, plane and dozens of people began Nov. 30. Local residents went out searching on their own. Missing persons flyers were posted up and down the valley in both English and Spanish.
A large amount of media attention followed, including a segment on CNN Headline News. After yesterday's tragic discovery, the family canceled a scheduled appearance on this morning's “Today” show on NBC.
Aldrich's family members are flying to Aspen this afternoon to recover his body.
“These things rarely happen [in Aspen]. … We live in a very safe place,” said Pryor, the chief of police. “It comes as a shock to all of us to have someone — a young man who's come here looking for a good time, to enjoy himself skiing, to meet new friends, to work on the mountains — to have his life end like this is an absolute tragedy."
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