A 41-year-old Utah woman managed to save her climbing buddy in a final act of sacrifice after an ice column they were scaling broke apart.
Meg O’Neill and two other climbers were scaling a frozen waterfall in Indian Canyon on Sunday, when a huge column of ice split in the middle of their ascent.
According to local law enforcement officials, when O’Neill noticed the ice breaking off, she pushed her 21-year-old companion out of the way and took the hit.
The move ended up being the Salt Lake City resident’s final act, as she was crushed to death by “two huge blocks of ice” that she became trapped underneath.
The climber she saved managed to escape without injuries thanks to O’Neill’s selfless act. Their 24-year-old companion was injured during the event when he plunged 40 feet.
His life was in turn saved by the 21-year-old climber, who had to scale down the ice and drive out of the remote canyon in order to locate enough cell phone signal to call 911.
When search and rescue arrived, the injured man was airlifted out by helicopter and flown to a local hospital for medical treatment.
O’Neill’s life has been mourned publicly on a Facebook group, For Meg, which was set up after her tragic death.
More than 342 people have joined and shared stories about how O’Neill touched their lives, mainly through her time as assistant director of Embark Outdoors, a non-profit organization with a mission to “empower refugee women through outdoor education and sports.”
The organization’s founder, Camille Fiducia, said that O’Neill “constructed her entire life around service” to others, and forwent high salaried positions to pursue a path of “fulfilling work,” that is often times “thankless.”
Prior to her time with Embark Outdoors, O’Neill was a science teacher at Utah International Charter School.
“Meg has this impressive outdoor resume. A very prolific climber in the Wasatch, and a very committed outdoors person,” Fiducia said about her fallen partner.
Many of the young women that O’Neill taught shared touching stories about how she impacted their lives.
“I remember feeling like a deer in the headlights my first months in Yosemite,” wrote former student Robin Clancy.
“But on my first day, I met this bubbly, friendly, funny, and tack-smart lady named Meg O’Neill who introduced herself as my coach. She taught me so much in those first few months.”
“She took me on my first real outdoor rock climb. She taught me the basics of crack climbing,” Clancy shared. “She introduced me to the mountains in such a kind, non-judgmental way that they quickly began to feel like home.”
“There are absolutely no words that can begin to properly express the outsize impact Meg had on each of us and the community,” wrote friend David Taft.
“Ever since I met her in 2013 while living in the San Juans, Meg has been a pillar of consistency in my life,” he posted. “Some years we only caught up at Creeksgiving, other years we’d climb together most weekends and her guest room would feel like a second home.”
The Duchesne County Sheriff’s Office were finally able to locate and recover O’Neill’s body on Monday night, after 36 hours of searching.
“If all of us can be one-eighth what Meg’s attitude of service were, what a change that could be in our local community,” Fiducia remarked.