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4 dead after avalanche in mountains east of Salt Lake City

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Unified Police Sgt. Ed Twohill organizes efforts for rescue of people that may have been caught in an avalanche in Millcreek Canyon in Salt Lake County on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

MILLCREEK — Four people were killed and four others survived an avalanche Saturday in the mountains on the eastern edge of the Salt Lake Valley, according to Unified police.

Police said it was a group of eight skiers, friends ranging in age from 23 to 48 years old, who triggered the avalanche around 11 a.m. The survivors were able to dig themselves out and find the others, whom they also reportedly uncovered, but it was too late.

One of the survivors experienced hypothermia and all eight of them were wearing beacons at the time of the avalanche, according to Unified police.

Officials said they hope to recover the bodies of the four skiers who died before nightfall, but recovery efforts may continue on Sunday.

“This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the victims and families involved,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted. He thanked “first responders and others who engaged in this rescue and recovery effort” and urged caution in the wake of the deaths.

“With avalanche danger high right now, please exercise extreme caution,” he said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said more information would become available “through the evening.”

“We are heartbroken over the tragic news of four fatalities as the result of an avalanche in the Millcreek Canyon area this afternoon,” she said. “We deeply mourn the loss of life due to this devastating incident.”

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Two Life Flight helicopters hover as Unified police respond to an avalanche scene in Millcreek Canyon in Salt Lake County on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The deadly slide, reported to be at 9,800 feet elevation, occurred near Wilson Glade in Millcreek Canyon. Multiple agencies responded to the rescue and recovery incident, including Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Canyon Search and Rescue Unit, Unified Police Department, Unified Fire Authority, Life Flight, as well as Brighton and Solitude ski patrol.

It covered 250 feet of ground and the hurtled snow was 2.5 feet deep, according to the Utah Avalanche Center, which called Saturday’s avalanche “significant.”

The center reported dangerous avalanche conditions earlier on Saturday, noting that large natural slides had occurred throughout the night in northern Utah backcountry.

New snow in the last week on an already weak snowpack resulted in increased danger.

Another four avalanches were reported on Saturday, though none involved any victims, reports indicate. Utah Avalanche Center Director Mark Staples has said an avalanche can travel at speeds up to 80 mph, with various trees and rocks in its path.

There were two fatal avalanches in Summit County in January, including one a week ago involving a Park City man.

The last time four people were killed in an avalanche was on Feb. 13, 1992, at Gold Basin outside Moab, according to the Utah Avalanche Center. Those four were part of a volunteer avalanche observation team with the U.S. Forest Service.