Craig Strickland’s family and friends have not given up hope he’s alive.
While the search for Strickland continues after he went missing during a duck hunting trip that claimed the life of his friend Chase Morland, Strickland’s family is taking a little bit of comfort in the fact that his beloved black lab Sam, who was also on the trip, was found safe and sound, walking the bank of the Arkansas river.
“Craig’s dog being found alive is a very good sign,” Strickland’s friend and Backroad Anthem bandmate Toby Freeman tells PEOPLE. “That’s a piece of hope that we’re actually clinging on to.
“Dog being man’s best friend is a saying that’s so common, but it’s actually so true in this case,” he says. “Sam’s an older lab and for him to make it in such harsh conditions – it’s just so amazing and we’re clinging on to that.”
The family has gathered at the search site northwest of Tulsa and is praying they find Strickland, 29, alive.
“Craig and his dad Randy are so close. They pretty much do everything together when he’s home,” says Freeman. “They are a very faith-based family. God is their center. I know Randy’s clinging to hope, but his heart is just broken. It’s such a gut-wrenching accident and it’s so tragic. His wife Helen is struggling so much, she’s just hoping and praying that they find Craig.”
Though a meteorologist told the family the wind in the area where Strickland’s small duck hunting boat was found capsized was gusting up to 45 mph and the wind chill put the temperature under 20 degrees, Freeman says it wouldn’t be out of character for Strickland to pull through such harrowing conditions.
“Anything that Craig put his mind to he could accomplish,” says Freeman. “He’s so passionate about his wife, his family, the band – he had a fire in him for the things he loved.”