A 31-year-old Marine stationed in Missouri tragically plummeted to his death on Monday, when he accidentally fell into a fresh sinkhole while hunting deer. According to the Kansas City Star, Curtis Powelson, a staff sergeant who trained military police officers at Fort Leonard Wood Army base, didn’t see the gaping opening in the ground for the same reason that rescue crews nearly didn’t; the roughly 70-foot-deep hole was almost entirely covered by undergrowth.
"We had some deputies that were real close and didn't see it, also some firefighters that almost went off into the sinkhole," Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long told the Missouri-based ABC News affiliate KSPR. "I kind of use that term loosely because I've seen sinkholes before and this was nothing like I've seen before. It was very cylindrical,” he added.
Earlier in the night, Powelson had been hunting a deer with a bow and arrow from a tree stand in his yard. In the last conversation he had with his wife, he told her that he was heading into the woods to track a deer he had shot. When, hours later, he still hadn’t returned, his wife contact the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department.
The Sheriff’s office dispatched police officers who, along with at least 20 firefighters and some local residents, searched the woods for nearly five hours. It was almost 3 a.m. before search crews found the sinkhole in a wooded area not far from Powelson’s home in Buckhorn, Mo.
"They just did a general grid search pattern and they came across the sinkhole and were able to shine lights down there and were able to find him at that point," Pulaski County Assistant Coroner Michael McCart told KY3 News. "Myself, I've hunted out there since I was a kid, and the landowner himself had no idea this was out there … We had several firefighters and deputies that almost stepped into it themselves, just out there wandering around looking for him last night.”
Although the Missouri Ozarks have an abundance of karst terrain, land with underlying soluble rocks or groundwater that can make it prone to sinkholes, McCart ultimately put it down to bad luck. “It's just a horrible accident,” he said.
Sheriff Long said that Powelson’s body was eventually retrieved by several rescue workers who rappelled off of a side of the sinkhole. "We had to do that cautiously too because this was a very new sinkhole, the sides were freshly collapsed, and just getting up to the edge you could see the dirt and ground giving away,” he said.
According to the local news station, family and friends close to Powelson, a husband and father with a young child, were too shaken up over the news to speak about his death on Tuesday. On Thursday, the U.S. Marine Corps released Powelson’s service record.