Efforts to find missing teens at Utah Lake switching from water to primarily air searches

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Utah (ABC4 News) – UPDATE: The bodies of Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez were found Thursday, May 14.


It was a difficult Mother’s Day for two Utah County mothers as the search continues for their missing daughters at Utah Lake.

Sophia Hernandez, 17, and Priscilla Bienkowski, 18, have been missing since May 6th. They were last seen tubing on the lake near Knoll’s Campground at SR-68 near mile marker 20.

RELATED: Dangerous winds and deep, cold water turn Strawberry Reservoir into a kind of watery graveyard

On Sunday, loved ones were taken out to the area where crews have been searching on the water.

“Neither of the mothers really wanted to go there,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon, Public Information Officer for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. “Sophia’s father went and Priscilla’s brother and sister and another of Sophia’s family members went.”

RELATED: Vigil held for teens who went missing at Utah Lake as crews continue to search

“It’s good to take the family out,” said Jason Sargent, a volunteer with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue. “In this case, they took them out on the water and showed them some of the areas we’re searching, the equipment we’re using.”

RELATED: Kite surfer on Utah Lake at same time as missing teens says ‘swells were at least three to six feet high’

Moving forward, crews with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies will scale back their search efforts on the water.

Over the weekend, multiple boats and nine to ten wave runners looked in the lake for any sign of the girls.

“When a person is lost on the water as we believe in this case, then after several days they’ll start to come closer to the surface,” said Sgt. Cannon. “We’ll use the aircraft that’s easier to spot from the air than the water. The thing that we’re fortunate of with Utah Lake is the nature of the lake. If they’re in the lake it will eventually bring results.”

That’s due to the lake’s shallow nature.

Despite its shallowness, the lake’s murkiness has made it difficult for crews to search.

“Depending on the weather is our biggest issue,” said Sargent. “When the wind blows up, it’s hard for the boats to tow the sonar fish in a straight line especially in the shallower water.”

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office says at its deepest point, the lake is about 14-15 feet deep when full.

Related: Despite high winds, crews continue search for missing teens at Utah Lake

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