SALT LAKE CITY — The bodies of four avalanche victims were recovered on Sunday, one day after a significant avalanche struck in the Wilson Glades area of Alexander Basin in Millcreek Canyon.
According to Salt Lake County Search and Rescue officials, the recovery operation began at 7 a.m. Using rope-assisted ground operations at the scene of the accident and then a Department of Public Service helicopter, rescue teams were able to transport the four people off of the mountain.
The recovery was a combined operation that included volunteers from Wasatch Backcountry Rescue along with the Salt Lake County Search and Rescue team. During the process, the rescue workers had the victims’ families on their minds.
#UPDATE– Recovery operations for the 4 people lost in yesterday’s #MillcreekCanyon #avalanche have wrapped up. All 4 skiers are off the mountain. @UtahDPS flew rescue teams in and made 3 trips to recover the victims. @KSL5TV pic.twitter.com/07AiFYwKNY
— Garna Mejia KSL (@GarnaMejiaKSL) February 7, 2021
“We wanted those families to know that we care about their loved ones and wanted them to be able to return to them, as quickly as possible,” one rescuer said.
The victims of the Millcreek avalanche were identified by mid-Sunday morning. The Unified Police Department confirms that Sarah Moughamian, age 29, of Sandy, Utah, and Louis Holian, age 26, Stephanie Hopkins, age 26, and Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, age 23, all from Salt Lake City, Utah, died as a result of the avalanche.
“Our condolences go out to the family and friends of the four avalanche victims,” said Salt Lake County Search and Rescue in a statement.
“SLCOSAR wishes to thank Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, Intermountain Lifeflight, the Department of Public Safety, the United States Forest Service, the Utah Avalanche Center, and Brighton, Solitude and Alta Ski Patrols for providing resources and support during this tragic accident.”
“Our hearts go out to loved ones of the skiers lost in Saturday’s avalanche,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
We were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Stephanie (Steph) Hopkins who was a nurse at University of Utah Health and a graduate of our prestigious critical care internship program.
— University of Utah Health (@UofUHealth) February 8, 2021
#EXCLUSIVE: Jill & I taught her the great outdoors when she was young. The best way to describe it is: she was now our coach, and she just zoomed by & loved everything about the Wasatch Front.” 29yo Sarah Moughamian is 1 of 4 skiers lost in yesterday’s #MillcreekAvalanche @KSL5TV pic.twitter.com/NyLBl94mYA
— Garna Mejia KSL (@GarnaMejiaKSL) February 8, 2021
The Unified Police Department (UPD) says that two groups, totaling eight people, were skiing in the Wilson Glade area of Millcreek Canyon when the avalanche was unintentionally triggered. All eight people were swept up in the powerful slide, and four were able to dig themselves and the others out.
“All eight skiers were well prepared and had the necessary equipment for the conditions,” the UPD said in a statement.
The survivors, males ranging in age from 23 to 38, were airlifted off of the mountain by Life Flight helicopters and crews. According to the UPD, none of the survivors suffered life-threatening injuries.
Due to unstable conditions, efforts to recover the four deceased skiers were halted until Sunday morning.
Avalanche danger in Utah continues
The beginning of 2021 has been a dangerous time for Utahns in the backcountry. There have been six avalanche fatalities recorded in Utah since January 8.
The Utah Avalanche Center reports that the snowpack across Utah is generally weak and presents outdoor enthusiasts with dangerous and complex conditions. Those who choose to travel in the backcountry should avoid being on, near, or under any steep slopes.
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