South Georgia duck hunt ends with 1 dead, 1 hospitalized

BRUNSWICK, Ga. - A Baxley couple's duck-hunting trip ended tragically on the Altamaha River.


Appling County sheriff's deputies recovered the body of Archie Courson, 32, shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday a few hundred yards from where he and his girlfriend, Gwen Spell, were thrown overboard when their boat capsized Tuesday afternoon, Chief Deputy Lee J. Sweat said.

It appeared Courson died from exposure or drowned. An autopsy will be performed today at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation laboratory in Savannah, Sweat said.

Deputies rescued Spell, 34, shortly after midnight after finding her clinging to a submerged tree stump where she had spent about nine hours in the frigid water. She was found upstream from Deen's Landing.

Suffering from hypothermia, Spell was taken to Appling Healthcare System's hospital in Baxley, Sweat said.

Spell was listed in stable but guarded condition Wednesday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The water temperature of the river was about 35 degrees overnight Tuesday, authorities estimated.

The couple were dressed in winter clothing and wearing life vests when they launched their boat from Deen's Landing to go duck hunting about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"They hit a log floating in the river and their boat capsized, throwing both of them into the water," Sweat said.

Spell managed to make it to the stump, but Courson was carried away by the current. When the couple didn't return by 5 p.m., family members went to the landing and found their parked truck and empty boat trailer.

Sweat said relatives reported the couple to the Sheriff's Office about 10:40 p.m. Tuesday triggering a boat search involving about 100 people including volunteers, sheriff's deputies, emergency personnel from Appling, Jeff Davis and Toombs counties and Georgia Department of Natural Resources rangers.

After locating Spell, searchers kept looking for Courson but suspended the search about 2 a.m. because of darkness and dangerous conditions on the river. They resumed the search at dawn, and DNR rangers located Courson's body near a log in the water, authorities said.



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