DNR: Hunter died after fall from tree

GREENFIELD — A Greenfield man was found dead after he fell 18 feet while trying to remove hunting equipment from a rotted tree, officials said.

Search crews were called to a home in the 5300 block of South County Road 575E around 10:30 p.m. Saturday after Robert Smith, 59, did not return from the woods where he had gone to work on his tree stands that afternoon, according to a release from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Smith had been combing his neighbor’s 40-acre property, removing and repositioning hunting tree stands around the grounds, officers said. They believe Smith was about 18 feet in the air when the tree he was working in collapsed and crashed to the ground.

Smith, who was found at the base of the tree, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scott Johnson, a local DNR conservation officer, aided in the search. He said the tree stand, a ladder-like device with a platform and seat attached at the top used for hunting, appeared to have been in place for years, and the tree had aged and decayed around it.

When Smith climbed into the stand and removed the straps that held it in place, the tree collapsed, Johnson said. Smith was not wearing a harness.

“That tree probably would have fallen years ago if the stand wasn’t attached to it,” Johnson said.

Smith’s wife and neighbors began searching the woods after Smith didn’t return home. They called 911 when they were unable to find him, and Indiana conservation officers and members of the Indiana State Police and Hancock County Sheriff’s Department completed a brief search of the area before finding Smith’s body.

Johnson called the incident a tragic accident. He cautions those gearing up for hunting season to be wary of old or worn-out trees and to use safety equipment including harnesses whenever possible.

Johnson recommended a buddy system for installation and removal of equipment from trees, especially ones high off the ground.

DNR officials recommend hunting equipment like tree stands be inspected each year to be sure it’s sturdy and safe. At the end of the season, all equipment should be brought indoors for safe keeping, Johnson said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.