North Little Rock — A local news anchor Craig O’Neill was found by search and rescue officials after being trapped under an avalanche at Wild Winter Country theme park for over 3 hours.
O’Neill was filming a remote television spot for THV, Little Rock’s CBS affiliate, about the upcoming winter theme park when the avalanche took place. The park, typically a water park called Wild River Country, began testing the artificial snow machines this week in preparation of the opening later this month. O’Neill and a camera man were setup on the future tube slope.
“We just wrapped up filming when I started feeling a small rumble,” THV cameraman Bob Elswick tells us, “I dropped my gear and took off running. I thought for a brief second to warn Craig, but he always wears those sneakers, so I figured he could out run me anyway.”
Officials tell us that the avalanche was likely caused by snow melting on the 60° day and then being layered with fresh snow on top. This created an unstable snow base on the slope which eventually began to shift.
It is estimated that O’Neill was only covered by approximately 4 ft of snow. The inexperience of the search and rescue team in avalanche rescue led to a slow recovery time.
“We honestly had no clue how to begin a search and rescue in the avalanche,” Rescue official Herbert Ramirez tells us. “We debated for a while on where we needed to begin the rescue, ultimately we decided to start from the bottom and work our way up. Secondly we debated on the method. We eventually chose to poke sticks in the ground until we hit something.”
After a 3 hour search, that included a 30 minute hot cocoa break, a rescue worker spotted O’Neill’s lips sticking through the surface of the snow approximately 18 inches from the spot O’Neill was last seen.
THV News Director David Parker released a statement saying O’Neill is recovering with mild hypothermia at UAMS. O’Neill is reportedly in good spirits, making a number of prank calls to the hospital’s meal services requesting extra pudding for other patients and should be released in time for tonight’s newscast.