Search for two missing teens at Utah Lake continues

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


Friday, is the third-day search and rescue crews have been searching for missing Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez at Utah Lake. It’s a race against the clock for Utah County Sheriff’s Office’s Search and Rescue team to find two teenagers who went missing at Utah Lake Wednesday night.

Officials have expanded the search to an 8-mile radius. Officials say one major challenge is not knowing exactly where the two entered the water. Crews are now using sonar to comb the floor of the lake for clues as to where the girls could be. 

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

“We don’t like the term recovery, we are leaning that direction simply because if the girls were someplace besides the lake we don’t have any reason to believe that they would not have contacted the family this would be extremely out of character for them,” said Sgt. Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Sgt. Cannon, family members called Saratoga Springs Police around 8 p.m. Wednesday when 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez and 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski didn’t return home.

They said the teens were tubing near the Knoll’s area of Utah Lake along SR-68 near mile marker 20. One of the parents told investigators a nearby fisherman picked up their phone that was left behind when they called.

“There is grave concern because Utah Lake is unique in the sense that when you get wind, anyone in the water is going to get bad waves,” said Sgt. Cannon. “Here, you can have six or eight-foot waves, but because it’s so shallow, those waves are close together and it makes it nearly impossible to navigate when you’re on a tube or a kayak.”

Crews located the teenagers’ car keys, cell phone, and personal belongings onshore and eventually, their tubes in the water.

“The state park’s boat here that has the ability to use the side-scan sonar is nearly impossible to use when the conditions are like this,” said Sgt. Cannon.

He said the tubes that Sophia and Priscilla bought may have been from Walmart, which are not designed to be life preservers but more like “pool toys.” He emphasized that the wind conditions they endured during the night were treacherous. At this time, investigators don’t have information that indicates the girls wore life jackets.

“The water temperature is about 57 degrees. With that kind of water temperature, it would be really, really difficult to maintain lucidity for very long. Human body loses temperature 24 times faster in water than you do in air,” said Sgt. Cannon.

RELATED: Family members try to stay optimistic during search for missing teens at Utah Lake

Search efforts resumed around 7:30 a.m. Friday with boats in the water, helicopters in the sky, and UCSO’s Mounted Posse on the shore. Crews know time is of the essence and hope Sophia and Priscilla are still alive somewhere, waiting for help to come.

“Maybe these gals are holding up somewhere, got injured, and freezing their buns off,” said Sgt. Cannon.

Victim advocates are working with the girls’ families about what to expect in the days and hours to come. 

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