four Skiers Killed in Avalanche in Utah, Officers Say
An avalanche in Utah killed four skiers on Saturday, police said. It was the deadliest avalanche in the United States since May 2014, when six climbers were killed on Mount Rainier in Washington, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Saturday’s avalanche was triggered at around 11:40 a.m. local time in Millcreek Canyon, about 13 miles east of Salt Lake City, by two groups of skiers – a group of five and a group of three, said Sgt. Melody Cutler of the Unified Greater Salt Lake Police Department.
Four of the skiers dug themselves out of the snow and then dug up the bodies of the four killed, Sergeant Cutler said. The skiers, who were between 20 and 30 years old, were armed with shovels and beacons that emitted an audible sound that enabled the survivors to find the bodies, she said.
The four survivors were rescued after calling 911 and indicating their location in the canyon that is part of the Wasatch National Forest, Sergeant Cutler said. Rescue workers hiked into the gorge and flew in by helicopter, she said. The survivors had experienced hypothermia and other minor injuries.
Sergeant Cutler said rescue workers had determined whether it was safe enough to retrieve the four bodies. The Utah Avalanche Center had previously warned of “dangerous avalanche conditions” on Saturday.
“This is a terrible tragedy and our prayers go out to the victims and families affected,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox said on Twitter. “We are grateful to the first responders and others who have participated in this rescue and recovery effort. Be extremely careful when there is extreme avalanche danger. “
According to Karl Birkeland, director of the National Avalanche Center, which is part of the US Forest Service, 15 people have died in avalanches in the United States in the past week, most in a seven-day period since 1910.
Mr Birkeland attributed the dangerous conditions to a thin blanket of snow in the early season that weakened before being cluttered with snow from recent storms. He said this resulted in avalanches in Utah, Colorado, Montana and other states to the west.
“What it shows is the widespread nature of the particular avalanche conditions we currently have,” said Birkeland.
Garrett Brucia, a Salt Lake City resident who sometimes skis near Millcreek Canyon, said he texted friends after hearing about the avalanche to make sure they were okay.
Millcreek Canyon, he said, is a popular backcountry ski area, but with a blanket of snow in the area “built like a house of cards,” he has stuck to skiing at the resort for about a month.
“It’s not the time to really take risks, frankly,” said Brucia, adding that four deaths were a “shocking number”.
It was the third avalanche in the United States that week that killed multiple people.
Three ski tourers in southwest Colorado were found dead on Wednesday, two days after the group they were traveling with triggered a major avalanche. Also on Wednesday, the bodies of three hikers were found at the site of an avalanche in southern Alaska, the authorities said.