• August 13, 2020

The end of an extraordinary life - Odessa American: Local News

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The end of an extraordinary life

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Posted: Wednesday, July 1, 2020 4:19 pm

Ryan Kennedy was an extraordinary young man. That is what his dad would say. It is what the rest of his family and coworkers would say. The people he helped as he worked for Apollo MediFlight would probably remember him with gratitude as well.

Those who knew Ryan remember that from an early age, he could take challenges head-on and succeed. Friday night lights were bright at Coahoma Bulldog field, where he was a linebacker until he asked to be moved. As a 180-pound nose tackle, it did not seem like he was any threat, but his quickness and ability to push through to his target earned him a reputation. Schools soon began not just to double, but triple guard him.

The one thing that his dad asked him to do was to not work in the oil field; it was too dangerous. However, after graduation, he did work in the oil patch, earning money for his education.

February 18, 2008, a morning blast from the refinery shook their hometown of Big Springs, sending a massive mushroom-shaped cloud into the sky. His father’s memories of the sight of that ominous cloud brings memories of frustration and pride. “I picked up the phone as soon as I saw that cloud and called Ryan. I told him not to go; he said he had to.” Ryan earned a gold medal for his bravery that day.

He attended firefighter training in Midland, Tx. and had a job with the Big Spring Fire Department three months before he graduated. After three years at BSFD, he beat out 200 other applicants and joined the Odessa Fire Department. Recruited, he began working on an air ambulance on his days off. Not long after that, he began to work as a fulltime flight paramedic, eventually making his way to Apollo MediFlight, stationed in Borger.

Outdoor life was in his heritage. Ryan fishing with his grandpa from an early age, weeklong fishing trips made its way to hunting trips, rock climbing, mountain climbing. Many things concerning the outdoors came to him second nature. It was who he was.

However, even though he was a young, physically fit, seasoned outdoorsman, trained for emergencies, he still lost his life at Lake Meredith.

With time off, it was no surprise that he went hunting that December weekend. He traveled from his home in Canyon, Tx. to Lake Meredith, setting out his small boat from Harbor Bay. He spent time in two general areas; one was Morton’s Canyon, directly across from where he launched his boat. A call from him in the early hours of Sunday relayed that he had shot a buck mule deer and would be coming home that morning.

He would have to get across soon. He would need the time to process the deer and get ready for work, which would begin early Tuesday morning, so that did not leave much time. And, snow was in the forecast.

Ryan went missing December 15, 2019. It would be a torturing 143 days before his body was found halfway between the canyon and Harbor Bay.

A lot happened in those 143 days. Christmas came and went, New Year’s Day past. The world went into lockdown due to a pandemic. Winter faded into Spring. All of this passed, as Ryan’s family and friends waited to find their son, their brother, their friend.

Ryan touched many people’s lives while he was alive. There is hope that his death can help change people’s lives as well. His family wants no other family to go through what they have had to endure.

Three things stand out in the tragedy that happened. Two could have helped prevent it from occurring, and one could have helped the authorities find Ryan sooner.

Ryan was in a hurry. He enjoyed the hunt, but the real world was calling. Choosing not to field dress the deer, added weight to an already heavily weighted boat. The water was calm while Ryan was in the canyon; however, when he exited the canyon, high winds had made the frigid waters white cap, and Ryan had to fight against the wind and waves as he made his way across the lake to Harbor Bay.

He was in a hurry. He did not turn around and wait it out. He pushed on. If he had waited, it might have been an uncomfortable night in the canyon, and it would shorten his already limited time he had before work. Ryan chose to push on.

He always had his floatation device but did not wear it. It was bulky and uncomfortable. The life vest was safely tucked under the seat of the boat. It was close but not close enough if thrown into the water, and there would be no time or opportunity to put it on in a treacherous situation in which Ryan found himself. He chose not to wear the floatation device.

Now there are floatation devices that are built into coats. These coats bring warmth and safety without being anymore bulky than the jacket a winter hunter would wear. The cost of a float coat is also less than a funeral.

143 days is a horrible amount of time to look for the remains of a loved one. Parked at the point at Harbor Bay in the morning and then moving to Fritch Fortress in the afternoon, his dad waited and watched.

Every 143 of those days, the Lake Meredith National Park Service personnel tirelessly searched. The Superintendent, Park Rangers, and Park Maintenance workers searched the shores, the water’s surface, and every time available, utilized side sonar. The issue was that they had no starting point. They had over 1,500-acre area to search.

If Ryan had been wearing a waterproof personal GPS device, they would have had a point to begin the search, locating him sooner and letting the tragedy not multiply for the family.

Ryan was an extraordinary person. What makes him an extraordinary person is not his knowledge of the outdoors, nor the people that he helped. It is how he loved and who loved him. We all have extraordinary people we love.

Knowledge and the practice of these three things could keep the extraordinary people we know safe, and alive, turning our potential 143 days of horror into consecutive days of laughter at Christmas, and the promise of a New Year.

Odessa, TX

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