Avalanche kills man snowmobiling with family in Utah. He was buried 22 feet deep

·4 min read
Screengrab from KSL

The body of a man who was snowmobiling with his family was found buried under more than 22 feet of snow on a Utah mountain, officials said.

It happened just after 6 p.m. on Monday, March 27, according to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. A family member called 911 to report the man was trapped in the avalanche, then started digging through the snow to find him.

Officials identified the man as 38-year-old Brett Howard Warner in a March 28 news release.

Multiple people wrote in comments on the sheriff’s office Facebook post that Warner leaves behind a wife and kids.

“Hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight,” one said in the comment. “Such devastating news.”

Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon told KSLTV “it was an extremely large avalanche in an open bowl area” of the Oquirrh mountain at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, the station reported.

The avalanche happened at Pole Canyon near Lewiston Peak in northwest Cedar Fort, the station reported. The area is about 32 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

The family member told rescuers they had come from “the Oquirrh mountain side and into the bowl area near the top of Pole Canyon” and had just turned to head back up the mountain when the avalanche started near the peak, officials said in a March 28 news release. Avalanche danger in that area was considerable on Monday, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.

The family member who called 911 got out of the avalanche path, but Warner got caught by the slide, the release said.

Both of them carried back country avalanche safety equipment, including beacons, probes, shovels, and airbags, the release said. Warner told his family member he was deploying his airbag as he got caught in the slide, but the sheer volume of the snow carried him away and buried him.

Rescuers flew out to the remote canyon in helicopters and quickly determined Warner was buried under more than 22 feet of snow, officials said in the release.

It took rescuers hours of digging to get to his body, officials said in the release. They created terraces as they dug down and moved snow from one terrace to the other and then out of the hole.

They found Warrner’s body face down underneath the snowmobile just after 8 p.m., officials said in the release.

Rescuers said it was one of the “most massive avalanches they’ve ever seen” in their experience with back country activities, officials said in the release. It broke near the peak and slid down 1,500 feet in elevation, covering more than half a mile in distance. Officials estimated the avalanche was more than 30 feet deep at the bottom of the slide, the release said.

What to know about avalanches

Avalanches happen quickly and catch people by surprise. They can move between 60 and 80 mph and typically happen on slopes of 30-45 degrees, according to experts.

Skiers, snowmobilers and hikers can set off an avalanche when a layer of snow collapses and starts to slide down the slope.

In the U.S., avalanches are most common from December to April, but they can happen at any time if the conditions are right, National Geographic reported.

At least 22 people in the U.S. have died in avalanches this season as of March 28, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

People heading into snow should always check the local avalanche forecast at Avalanche.org, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, and have an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel ready.

“Emergency services are usually too far away from the scene of an avalanche, and time is important,” Simon Trautman, a national avalanche specialist, said. “A person trapped under the snow may not have more than 20 or 30 minutes. So, in a backcountry scenario, you are your own rescue party.”

If an avalanche breaks out, it’s best to move diagonal to the avalanche to an edge, Trautman said.

“Try to orient your feet downhill so that your lower body, not your head, takes most of the impact,” officials said. “You may also get into a tight ball as another way to protect your head.”

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