Body of Overdue Hiker Identified: Death considered a suicide
October 30, 2008
Contact: Amy Vanderbilt
WEST GLACIER, MONT. – The man found dead late Wednesday afternoon in Glacier National Park’s Kintla Lake area has been identified as Bruce Colburn, 53, of Reading, PA. According to the Flathead County Coroner’s Office, Mr. Colburn’s death is considered a suicide caused by a self-inflicted single gunshot wound to the chest.
Park rangers searching the ground near the head of Kintla Lake, in the park’s remote northwest corner, found a pack matching the description of Colburn’s pack (grayish in color) at approximately 4 p.m. on Wednesday. That information was relayed to personnel conducting an aerial search via Minuteman Helicopter and Mr. Colburn’s body was found within minutes, on a slope above the trail from where this pack was found. It appeared that Colburn had left the Kintla Lake trail and scrambled upslope to a point approximately one quarter to one third of a mile above the lake.
Search efforts were underway Wednesday afternoon for a follow-up day of concentrated searching in the Kintla Lake and Upper Kintla Lake drainages when Colburn was found. Plans for continued ground and aerial searching as well as tracking by cadaver dog teams were immediately canceled when a positive identification was confirmed.
Park officials were poised to release a Missing Person poster to seek help from the public late Wednesday when Colburn’s body was found on the brushy slope above the trail near the head of Kintla Lake at about 5 p.m.
Park personnel had begun investigating the circumstances surrounding Colburn’s apparent disappearance. The investigation had thus far focused in the vicinity of where he was last seen - at the head of Kintla Lake.
Initial National Park Service (NPS) search efforts began late last week after Colburn failed to call for a pick up from an acquaintance, as expected. Colburn had flown to the Flathead Valley on October 7 where he spent the night in an area hotel. On October 8, he received a ride to Glacier’s North Fork area near Kintla Lake. Later that same day, Colburn was contacted by a park ranger at the Kintla Lake Campground where he planned to spend the night. Colburn indicated he planned to go hiking in the park. He was told that a backcountry permit is required to camp overnight in the park’s backcountry. The next morning he had left the campsite. That was the only contact park staff had with him; he did not obtain a park backcountry permit.
On October 23, park officials were contacted by the acquaintance that had given Colburn a ride to the park October 8. Colburn left luggage and belongings at an area hotel and indicated that he would be in contact in a couple of weeks. The individual became concerned when there was no word from Colburn after two weeks and called the park. Prior to this notification, neither the NPS nor other local law enforcement agencies had received any notification or indication that Colburn was missing or overdue. Front country campgrounds were checked throughout the park on Friday and Saturday. An initial aerial and ground hasty search were conducted on Sunday, October 26th by park personnel who hiked and searched trail corridors around Kintla Lake, including the Bowman Lake drainage, and the trail system leading to Goat Haunt; however no clues or evidence were found.
More than 30 people were involved in Wednesday’s search including NPS personnel, U.S. Border Patrol agents, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue personnel and the FBI. Wednesday’s operation involved both ground and aerial search efforts throughout the Kintla Lake and Upper Kintla Lake drainages and surrounding areas for clues to the man’s whereabouts.
"We are saddened to learn of the untimely death of Mr. Colburn," stated Glacier’s Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Dubois. "Our sympathy goes out Bruce Colburn’s family and friends, but we are always relieved to bring a search to an end where there is closure without further incident or injury. " Dubois further noted, "The staff at Glacier are incredibly dedicated and put in the extra effort to find Mr. Colburn, but they also would have wanted to continue searching for him if they had not found him yesterday."
In a separate missing person incident last summer, Yi-Jien Hwa, a 27-year-old Malaysian man, was reported overdue by his family on the last day of his week-long park itinerary. He was never heard from again. Active searches were scaled back in early September after several weeks of concentrated effort. That investigation remains open; however, no new clues have surfaced. Park officials are still seeking information from anyone who may have interacted with Mr. Hwa last August.
Rangers will continue their investigation. At this time, it appears this was Mr. Colburn’s first trip to the park. Further details will be provided as information becomes available.
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