Officials release details surrounding worker’s death, rescue efforts to retrieve body
Published 6:03 pm Thursday, August 24, 2017
NATCHEZ — Officials Thursday released details of how the construction worked found dead on top of the Mississippi River Bridge likely died and how emergency personnel retrieved his body.
A report from Adams County Coroner James E. Lee identified the man as Alexander O. Flores, 30, a resident of Morton. Lee, however, said that name was an alias. The report states the approximate time of death was 5:30 p.m.
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Flores’ body was discovered Thursday night at approximately 9 p.m. on top of the bridge, more than 110 feet in the air.
Flores’ body was sent to the Mississippi State Crime Lab for an autopsy. Lee’s report states that he highly suspects heat exhaustion to be the cause of death. The report lists the manner of death as accidental, with autopsy results pending.
“I have been in this business a long time, but this is one of the saddest cases I have worked,” Lee said. “My prayer goes out to his co-workers and family especially.”
Flores was discovered missing when other members of his construction crew could not locate him when they stopped working for the day. Crews are working to repair worn out sections of the bridge.
Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said his department received a report from Flores’ coworkers at approximately 8:01 p.m. that he was missing.
“Everything was put into motion from a law enforcement perspective at that point,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said Flores was unaccounted for at the end of his workday. Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said that Flores’ vehicle was still parked at the Natchez Visitor’s Center, but Flores had not been seen since 4:30 p.m.
Immediately, the Natchez Fire Department launched a boat and began searching the river for Flores’ body, presuming that he may have fallen into the river. Armstrong said the body was discovered on a beam on top of the bridge within an hour of the initial report at 8:01 p.m.
Patten said his department used infrared technology to locate Flores’ body. Patten said Corporal Dustin Smith used FLIR (forward-looking infrared) binoculars, which picked up a heat signature on top of the bridge.
After the discovery, Natchez Fire Battalion Chief Leland Rymer and Adams County Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford discussed how they would safely extricate the body.
Rymer said because of inclement weather conditions, he and Bradford decided to call in a joint task force between the McComb and Hattiesburg fire departments.
Rymer said the task force unit had more training and experience than the NFD’s workforce on hand.
McComb Deputy Fire Chief Phillip Holmes said the task force received and responded to the call at approximately 10:30 p.m. Holmes said the task force used a rope-and-pulley system to lower Flores’ body from the top of the bridge.
“(Responders) basically climbed to the top of the bridge where he was and lowered him to the ground using pulley systems and a K.E.D. (a special brace commonly used by emergency personnel),” Holmes said. “It was several levels. Each level was about 15 feet; they’d drop him down 15 feet, then they would (reset) and drop him down another 15 feet.”
Armstrong said the workers were able to safely lower the body to ground level at approximately 5 a.m. Thursday.
Lee commended all emergency personnel for their roles in the extrication process.
“I’m especially grateful to the law enforcement, civil defense firefighter’s brave men and women for the professional job they did in going to the top of the bridge to bring (Flores) down,” Lee said.
Armstrong said although no foul play is suspected, NPD’s criminal investigation unit is investigating the death as a precaution.
Armstrong said Flores’ sister was able to confirm his identity.
Flores was an employee of Blast Tech, Inc., based in Dunedin, Fla.