A body pulled from the Arkansas River in July was identified Friday as Eric Ashby, a Colorado Springs man who disappeared in June on a rafting trip and presumed to have drowned.
Ashby, 31, reportedly fell into the water when his raft overturned in challenging rapids in the Royal Gorge area on June 28. According to friends, Ashby had been searching for the Forrest Fenn treasure — a chest said to contain millions in gold — and believed he had deciphered the clues revealing its location.
Ashby’s family told NBC News earlier this year that he moved to Colorado in April 2016 to search for the treasure.
“Eric told his friends who flew in from Florida, ‘I know where the treasure is,’ and then he went into the river in a Walmart inflatable raft. You can’t go through Class 5 rapids in that kind of raft,” Ashby’s friend Dave Gambrell told Westword in September.
The rapids that Gambrell is referring to are located near Sunshine Falls, a stretch of white water on the Arkansas River. It is near there that Ashby tumbled into the water on June 28.
The incident was reported by a witness not involved in the treasure hunt. The crew that Ashby had assembled never reported his disappearance. “No one besides the first caller ever called to report a river accident or missing rafter,” the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office said in a July 12 report.
The dash for gold was started by millionaire Forrest Fenn, 86. He is a former Air Force pilot and a successful art dealer who lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
Fenn said he hid his treasure chest filled with gold somewhere in the Rocky Mountains in 2010. In his 2011 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase,” Fenn wrote a poem with hints to the treasure’s location. Its exact dollar value is not known.
“No one knows where the treasure chest is but me,” Fenn told NPR in March 2016. “If I die tomorrow, the knowledge of that location goes in the coffin with me.”
Ashby’s remains were identified using DNA, the Fremont County coroner said in a statement.
Two other Coloradans have died searching for the treasure.
Randy Bilyea, 54, of Broomfield was the first treasure hunter to disappear while searching for Fenn’s gold. He went missing in the New Mexico backcountry in January 2016. His body was discovered by the Army Corps of Engineers in July 2016 along the Rio Grande River.
Paris Wallace, 52, a pastor from Grand Junction, drove to New Mexico in search of the Fenn treasure in June and was reported missing by his wife after he failed to return home. His body was discovered by rafters in the Rio Grande River several days later.
In a 2017 interview with Westword, Fenn expressed his regrets about Wallace’s disappearance. “Words cannot describe the depth of my feelings. It is such a tragedy. I pray for his family, his friends and his congregation.”