LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The body of missing Larimer County Department of Natural Resources ranger Brendan Unitt was found early Friday morning. The search had been happening all night at Horsetooth Reservoir.
Unitt, 27, is from La Salle. The Larimer County Coroner said his cause of death was an accident due to fresh water drowning.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office communications center took a call at 9:18 p.m. Thursday that a ranger was missing after a strong wind event on Horsetooth Reservoir. Unitt’s boat was found on the water, but he was missing.
Authorities immediately launched a massive search. Several agencies were involved, including the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, Poudre Fire Authority, Colorado State Patrol, the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, the Denver Police Department helicopter, and others.
“I feel devastated,” said Gerald Boese, a witness to the search. “I did see quite a few officers talking and hugging. Seems like it is hitting them pretty hard.”
Boese told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas he was falling asleep in his tent when he heard the response start. It began with a park ranger driving quickly with lights and sirens on. Shortly after more rangers arrived, and eventually at least one healicopter joined in the search. Poudre Fire Authority said it was the Denver Police Department’s helicopter that was being used to search from above.
“We were sitting around getting ready for bed. We heard the helicopters,” Boese said. “(The helicopter) came right over and shined the search light right on my tent. It was flying around with search lights, searching for somebody.”
Drones were also used to look for Unitt.
— Larimer Sheriff (@LarimerSheriff) August 21, 2020
Around 3:30 a.m. Friday, Boese said he saw more rangers gathering at the southwest corner of Horsetooth Reservoir. That was also around the time that Unitt’s body was found, according to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
“I did see that the chaplain and the sheriff’s office was here,” Boese said. “There were tons and tons of rangers.”
There were strong winds around Horsetooth Reservoir at the time Unitt went missing. Winds stayed around 30 mph for more than an hour straight.
Unitt disappeared while responding to a search for a missing boater. There is no update on the original search, or whether it was related to the boat parade organized by supporters of Pres. Donald Trump that took place at the reservoir Thursday afternoon.
Boese said, knowing Unitt died while on duty serving others, he was thankful for the sacrifice the ranger made.
“He is a hero,” Boese said. “It is sad. I feel for his family. I feel for his family and everything, and all the other rangers out here today. It must be tough for them to be out here working again after all of that. I can only imagine.”