A message that was meant as a joke turned out to be sadly prescient for Craig Strickland and friend Chase Morland in Oklahoma on December 26. Strickland (29) and Morland (22) went duck hunting on Kaw Lake: an extensive body of water that was formed behind a dam on the Arkansas River in the 1970s. Strickland was a vocalist for the country-rock band known as Backroad Anthem. The land has extensive inlets and bayous, thereby giving it and extensive shoreline. The Backroad Anthem band was formed in 2013 and had seen success.

Young Morland had been employed at a Gellco Outdoors sporting goods store in nearby Arkansas. It was Morland who issued a tweet as they left for a day of hunting while the deadliest storm of 2015 hit most of the South and the middle of the United States. Acknowledging the danger the pair was facing, Morland tweeted: "In case we don't come back, BackroadCRAIG and I are going right through Winter Storm Goliath to kill ducks in Oklahoma. #IntoTheStorm." That was the last anybody heard of the two young men.

Storm Goliath swept into the area where winds were clocked at 45 mph. Rain, snow and sleet lashed Kaw Lake as the temperature dropped to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Strickland and Morland were reported missing on December 27. Kay County Sheriff Everette VanHoesen said later that the size and unpredictability of extensive Kaw Lake can catch unwary sportsmen by surprise. "It's a big lake, and when we have high winds, the lake will get whitecapped; the waves get pretty big," VanHoesen told the media. "I understand these men were avid hunters. They knew what they were doing, but sometimes the size of our lake really tricks them."

On December 28, searchers found young Morland’s body in shallow water on December 28. Apparently, the boat the two friends were using had capsized. The cause of death in Morland’s case was determined by the Oklahoma Chief Medical Examiner as drowning that was accompanied by exposure to harsh conditions in one of the wildest storms in memory.

On January 4, Strickland’s bandmates posted on Facebook to say that their friend had somehow managed to survive the capsizing and "fought his way from the water to a hill and was lying in the shape of a cross on his back.” Strickland's body was found on the morning of January 45 in an area thick with trees and brush some 75 feet from the shoreline. The thick tree line along Lake Kaw made the search difficult to locate Strickland since he was wearing camouflaged hunting clothing. Reportedly, life jackets were not found near the bodies of either of the men. It is believed that the boat the men were using was too small.

News of the disaster hit the country music scene hard. Fellow country musician Tyler Rich wrote on Facebook to recall that he had been with Strickland in Nashville at a bar just two months ago. Both were excited as they envisioned their respective accomplishments in the coming year. In advance of the discovery of Strickland’s body, Rich wrote: "Just know we're praying for you brother and know there's still hope you'll be found," Rich's post reads. Miraculously, the faithful hunting dog that accompanied the two friends survived the capsizing and the storm. “Sam” – a black Lab – was found guarding Morland’s body.

Morland, of Van Buren, Arkansas, had worked at a Gellco Outdoors hunting supply store in Arkansas. On the Gellco company Facebook page, a post noted Morland’s passing: "Chase lost his life in a duck hunting accident in Ponca City, Ok. Our prayers and sympathy go out to the Morland family during this time of loss. We ask all of our customers to remember this family at this time."

Exposure to the harsh weather can bring about hypothermia. The Mayo Clinic defines hypothermia as “a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia (hi-poe-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C).” Once the condition sets in, according to the Minnesota DNR, only one hour of useful consciousness is left before the victim expires. “When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work normally,” says the Mayo Clinic.”Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.”

The storm that took the lives of Strickland and Morland has been designed officially as the deadliest storm system for 2015 in the United States. Goliath is believed to have taken the lives of at least 52 lives across the Southern Plains, Midwest and Northeast. It was the seventh such named storm for the 2015-2016 storm season. A spokesman for the U.S. Weather Service said that Goliath brought exceptionally intense weather phenomena, including violent tornados, record rainfall that led to flooding in Missouri and elsewhere, as well as an epic blizzard.

Duck Hunting Safety

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers advice to duck hunters venturing outdoors and in rough weather. Among the cause of deaths it cited:

Lack of life jacket use. Between 2008 and 2012, boating accidents killed 70 people in Minnesota. Fifty-nine of those who died were not wearing a life jacket.

• Overloading a boat. Too much gear could cause a boat to capsize or swamp. Comply with capacity plate.

• Sudden shift in weight. Quick movement can cause a boater to fall overboard or a boat to capsize.

• Hunting during rough water or stormy conditions.

• Cold water immersion. Falling into icy water can be deadly, because many boaters do not think about the effects of cold water immersion.

• Crossing large bodies of open water.

The Minnesota DNR recommends that duck hunters use flotation devices such as life jackets, inflatable vests, or buoyant overalls.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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