UPDATE: New details released on Millcreek avalanche

Local News

Courtesy: Utah Avalanche Center

MONDAY 2/8/2021 10:26 a.m.

MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – The Utah Avalanche Center has released new details about the deadly Millcreek avalanche.

Late Saturday morning, authorities were notified of an avalanche in the Wilson Glade area of Millcreek Canyon.

Four people were killed in the avalanche – 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian of Sandy, 26-year-old Louis Holian, 26-year-old Stephanie Hopkins, and 23-year-old Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, all of Salt Lake City.

Initial reports indicated eight people in total – three in one group and five in another – had been caught in the avalanche.

The Utah Avalanche Center is now reporting seven people were caught and carried in the avalanche with one being partly buried and six being fully buried. Two people were recovered alive.

Authorities say the avalanche was unintentionally triggered by a skier.

Photos shared by the Utah Avalanche Center from their staff, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, and the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue show the snow and debris from the incident.

The bodies of those killed have been recovered.

Rescue crews identify 4 backcountry skiers killed in Millcreek avalanche

SUNDAY 2/7/2021 11:35 a.m.

MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Officers have identified the skiers involved in Utah’s deadly avalanche out of Millcreek Canyon on Saturday.

UPD can confirm that the four decease skiers are, 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian of Sandy, 26-year-old Louis Holian, 26-year-old Stephanie Hopkins, and 23-year-old Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, all of Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Our hearts go out to loved ones of the skiers lost in Saturday’s avalanche,” shares Sheriff Rosie Rivera.

On Feb. 7 at 11:40 a.m., the Unified Police Department (UPD) was notified of an avalanche in the Wilson Glade area of Millcreek Canyon. With initial reports of five skiers buried, UPD activated Salt Lake County Search and Rescue. Rescuers both hiked and were hoisted into the area to begin the search and rescue operation.

“We now know that there were two groups skiing in the area when the avalanche was triggered, a group of five skiers and a group of three skiers,” informs UPD officials. “The avalanche swept all eight away. Four surviving members of the groups were able to dig themselves and the others out. All eight skiers were well prepared and had the necessary equipment for the conditions.”

The four survivors, all males aged 23-38, were hoisted off the mountain by Life Flight Helicopters and crews. None of them had life-threatening injuries and were not hospitalized. Due to unstable conditions, efforts to recover the four deceased skiers were resumed Sunday morning.

“The Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Team is made up of highly trained volunteers that put themselves at risk to save others. They perform critical, life-saving operations, like this one, year-round,” says Sheriff Rosie Rivera.

The Unified Police Department gives special thanks to their partners who came together to perform the rescue: Salt Lake County Search and Rescue, Life Light, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, Unified Fire Authority, Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah State Fire Marshall, US Forest Service, and Brighton, Solitude, and Alta Ski Resorts. 

After authorities identified the four victims of Saturday’s deadly avalanche, Gov. Spencer J. Cox issued the following statement:

“The tragedy in Millcreek Canyon which claimed the lives of four young Utahns has shaken and saddened all of us. Abby and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of Sarah Moughamian, Louis Holian, Stephanie Hopkins, and Thomas Louis Steinbrecher during this heartbreaking time. We also extend our sympathies to their companions who escaped harm and thank all of the brave individuals involved in the recovery efforts.”

Rescue crews attempt to recover bodies of 4 backcountry skiers in Millcreek, Sunday

SUNDAY 2/7/2021 8:00 a.m.

MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Recovery efforts resume Sunday as the four bodies of the backcountry skiers remain buried in Millcreek Canyon.

It all started when the Unified Police Department began receiving dropped 911 calls at 11:40 a.m., Saturday. As officers found this suspicious they then traced the call and located it to be coming from Millcreek Canyon.

“The call service as we discovered is incredibly limited,” shares Unified Police Department Sgt. Melody Cutler.

It was then discovered an avalanche took place and eight individuals were caught in the slide.

According to the Unified Police Department, half of the group was able to unbury themselves and deploy their avalanche beacons.

But the other four could not.

The ages of the eight people involved ranged from early twenties to their late thirties.

Officials say the other half of the group attempted to rescue their friends, but with no success. This is when rescue crews began dispersing in.

Cutler says nobody should have been on the backcountry Saturday as avalanche risk was extremely high.

“I’m not sure if it’s the thrill or what it is, but it is really important to pay attention to those things,” shares Cutler. “There have been advisories out recently of very high avalanche danger. That exists. The current conditions and this is a very unfortunate circumstance that with these conditions and it actually happened and resulted in lives being lost.”

Officers say the four other individuals who managed to survive the slide were rescued via helicopter.

Wayne Bassham, the commander for Salt Lake County Search and Rescue, says him and about 40 volunteers put their life on the line to rescue the skiers.

“Oh we are all affected by it today, and we are all affected by it tomorrow and then some,” shares Basshman. “It is tragic individuals have lost their lives but it’s part of the job we do. Our main job now and focus is to bring closure to those who are no longer with us.”

Recovery efforts are currently being made Sunday, February 7.

ABC4 will update as more develops.

4 die in Millcreek avalanche, crews attempt to recover bodies before sundown

SATURDAY 2/6/2021 4:13 p.m.

MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Officials are now reporting four have died in Saturday’s deadly avalanche.

According to the Unified Police Department, rescue crews are attempting to recover the bodies of the four individuals before the sun goes down.

Officers say four other individuals managed to survive the slide and were rescued via helicopter.

Officials inform that all the victims involved in fact did have avalanche safety beacons.

Unified Police PIO Sgt. Melody Cutler tells ABC4, the ages of the eight people involved ranged from early twenties to their late thirties.

Rescue crews first received word of the avalanche near Wilson Glade at 11:40 a.m., near Millcreek Canyon, Saturday morning.

Upon arrival, crews then immediately dispersed and began their search for those involved.

“This is a terrible tragedy and our prayers go out to the victims and families involved,” responds Utah Governor, Spencer Cox. “We are grateful to the first responders and others who engaged in this rescue and recovery effort. With avalanche danger high right now, please exercise extreme caution.”

“We are heartbroken over the tragic news of four fatalities as the result of an avalanche in the Millcreek Canyon area this afternoon,” shares Mayor Jenny Wilson. “The Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Canyon Search and Rescue Unit, Unified Police Department, Unified Fire Authority, and other partners are on-site responding to the situation. Additional details will follow as they become available throughout the evening. We deeply mourn the loss of life due to this devastating incident.”

February 6 now marks Utah’s 3rd fatal avalanche of 2021.

ABC4 will update as the story develops.

Officials say more people are involved in Millcreek avalanche

SATURDAY 2/6/2021 2:56 p.m.

MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Officials are now reporting more individuals to be involved in Millcreek’s avalanche, not five.

On February 6, Unified Police PIO Sgt. Melody Cutler tells ABC4, eight people were actually involved in the slide.

Cutler goes on to share, five of those individuals then became stranded, requiring further assistance. Officials say the other three attempted to also assist in rescue.

The Utah Avalanche Center informs the public the incident took place near Wilson Glade in Millcreek Canyon.

Officials say a helicopter was able to fly in and assist in the rescue.

No one is reported to have died from the slide, according to UPD officials.

ABC4 will update as more develops.

Original Story: 5 possibly buried in Millcreek avalanche, crews rush to scene

SATURDAY 2/6/2021 12:40 p.m.

MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Officials say there are five possible victims of a current avalanche out of Millcreek, Saturday.

According to the Unified Police Department, crews are currently on scene of the Alexander Basin, investigating.

“5 people possibly buried, unknown condition,” shares the Unified Police Department.

The Utah Avalanche Center informed the public of high avalanche danger, Saturday morning.

According to the center, there have been large natural avalanches occurring overnight and conditions at the moment are dangerous.

“Rising avalanche danger today with strong winds and heavy snow forecasted,” writes the center.

Just last month, two men died after being buried in Utah’s avalanches.

The death of 57-year-old Kurt Damshroder marks the second person to die in an avalanche in Summit County in January.

His story, along with the late 31-year-old Kevin Jack Steuterman, has heightened safety concerns in the backcountry. 

Craig Gordon with Utah’s Avalanche Association said it is wise to listen to any warnings put out, especially if there is a high avalanche risk. 

Avalanches may seem to strike without warning, making avoiding one seemingly impossible. But, according to the Utah Avalanche Center, avalanches are often triggered and there can be signs that one is about to happen.

Photo from 3’ deep avalanche on 2/1

Here are some interesting facts from the Utah Avalanche Center about avalanches that can help you be more prepared if faced with one:

  • Avalanches are often triggered by people: In 90% of avalanche accidents, the victim or someone with the victim triggers the avalanche in some way. When natural avalanches occur, it is usually because snow is blown over weak layers of snow or rapid warming weakens the layers. In these cases, there are often clear signs that the snow is unstable.
  • Avalanches are not usually made up of loose snow: Rather, dangerous avalanches are caused by plates or layers of snow which can weaken and shatter, causing them to slide. Avalanches made up of loose snow (called sluffs) do not often cause deaths or any notable damage.
  • Avalanche debris settles like concrete: If you are buried in avalanche debris, it can be close to impossible to dig yourself out.
  • Avalanches are not usually caused by loud noises: It would take vibration from an extremely loud noise, like an explosion, to cause an avalanche. The noise would have to occur very close and under already very unstable conditions in which an avalanche was likely to occur naturally anyway.
  • Avalanche victims are often recreating in the backcountry: Snowmobilers are almost twice as likely to die from an avalanche than from any other snow activity.
  • People caught in avalanches don’t die from lack of oxygen: Even dense avalanche debris is usually full of air. Those buried in snow are more likely to die from carbon dioxide poisoning which collects around their mouth.
  • For avalanche victims, the first 15 minutes are key: 93% of buried avalanche victims are found alive if they are rescued within the first 15 minutes. After 45 minutes, only 20 to 30 percent are recovered alive.

ABC4 will update as more develops.

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