VA: Man falls on hunt
Man falls on hunt
January 18, 2011
While lodged against a small tree 300 feet above an abandoned rock quarry
in Ivanhoe two weeks ago, Thomas O’Neal experienced major realizations. One
was that he might not be rescued because of limited equipment of first
“Firefighters didn’t have enough rope to reach me from above,” the
26-year-old Wythe County resident noted, “and the police couldn’t get to me
from below. I could feel myself slipping.”
The ordeal began around 8:46 p.m. on Jan. 4 while O’Neal was coon hunting
with his wife, Chetina O’Neal, and his father-in-law, Chet Payne. The trio
had permission to hunt on the property above the old quarry.
“I had borrowed a friend’s blue tick coon dog,” O’Neal said. “It’s
probably worth $500 or $600. The dog went down the side of the cliff and
landed on a ledge. It couldn’t get back up.”
Wearing a hard hat with an attached light, O’Neal was attempting to
attach a rope to a clasp on the dog’s collar when the ground at the top of
the quarry gave way. He plunged 322 feet down into the darkness.
“I finally fell against a tree with my leg twisted behind me,” O’Neal
said. “My foot caught on a tree. I had a dip of snuff in my mouth when I
fell. I never lost a drop of it.”
According to Chetina O’Neal, she saw her husband fall. Using her cell
phone, she immediately called 911.
“I was really afraid,” Mrs. O’Neal said. “I thought I was going to be a
widow and our son wouldn’t have a daddy. That’s what got to me the most.”
The O’Neals’ 1-year-old son, Hunter, was with his maternal
great-grandmother, Rosetta Rosenbaum, at the time.
Responding to the emergency call were members of the Wythe County
Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police and the Ivanhoe Volunteer Fire
Department. The Max Meadows Volunteer Fire Department arrived later and a
helicopter was on standby.
Rescue workers tried frantically, Mrs. O’Neal said, to devise a way to
reach her husband. They did not have enough rope to throw down to the ledge
where Thomas O’Neal was hanging on for dear life, according to her, and
there was no way to reach him from the bottom of the rock quarry, over 300
more feet below him.
“Rescue has not been a top priority for us as a fire department,” pointed
out Robert Walk, chief of the Ivanhoe Volunteer Fire Department. “Since this
happened, we’ve realized there probably is a need. There are a lot of old
sink holes in this area from the mines and people could venture off the New
River Trail which goes through this area.”
Finally, Asplundh tree trimming service was contacted. The company sent a
worker and three 100-steps of rope latched together to throw to Thomas
“I was stuck on that ledge for two hours,” O’Neal recalled. “I could feel
myself slipping. I kept thinking how bad is it going to hurt when I hit the
bottom. I knew I was on my way to being dead.”
He was pulled to safety and transported to the emergency room at Wythe
County Community Hospital for examination. O’Neal suffered no serious
injuries and was released.
“I tell everybody I should be dead,” he said last week. “But I’m not. I’m
glad to be alive. I’ve got a little boy to take care of.”
The incident has spurred the O’Neals to raise awareness of the need for
their local fire department to have sufficient equipment. They are asking
businesses, organizations and individuals to donate money to buy rope.
“We’d like to see the fire department have what it needs,” Mrs. O’Neal
said. “It could mean life or death for someone.”
Another miracle, Thomas O’Neal said, was how the coon dog got off its
ledge. He noted the animal was home the next day.
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