BLUE RIDGE, Ga. -- An autopsy was scheduled on a black bear that found and ate part of a duffel bag of cocaine dropped in north Georgia's mountains last September by parachuting drug smuggler Andrew Thornton.
The dead bear was found in the Chattahoochee National Forest last Friday near a torn duffel bag and 40 plastic bags with traces of cocaine that had been ripped open, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials said Sunday.
'It appears the bear had gotten into the duffel bag because it was stripped,' said Fran Wiley of the GBI's drug enforcement office in Gainesville. 'It wouldn't take very much to kill him. He could have eaten a half pound and that would have killed him.'
A medical examiner was scheduled to perform an autopsy on the bear today to confirm it died from an overdose of cocaine.
Wiley estimated the 40 plastic containers once held 75 pounds of cocaine worth $15 million.
'The only thing that was left were the packages themselves,' she said. 'No cocaine was recovered. We're not saying there's any foul play in that regard.
'We're looking at over two months since it was dropped there. It's had time to dissolve and there was snow on the mountain when we found it. The bear obviously didn't eat 75 pounds of cocaine.'
GBI agent Gary Garner said the duffel bag was probably dropped in September from a plane piloted by Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler and former Army paratrooper who parachuted to his death in Knoxville, Tenn.
Thornton, a former Lexington, Ky., narcotics officer, had 75 pounds of cocaine strapped to his waist Sept. 11 when he fell to his death when his parachute failed to open completely.
Authorities believe Thornton had flown the twin-engine plane from South America before bailing out. The plane was apparently on auto-pilot and crashed in the North Carolina mountains.
Five days after Thornton's fatal plunge, three duffel bags filled with more than 200 pounds of cocaine and bearing the same markings as a bag found on Thornton's body were discovered on a northern Georgia mountain.
Wiley said a hunter found the duffel bag and packages in the national forest last week and notified a game warden, who called Fannin County Sheriff Walter Porter.