4 Skiers Die and 4 Rescued in Massive Avalanche in Utah's Millcreek Canyon

Skiers who died tragically in avalanche

Fourteen people have died in the U.S. in avalanches in just the last week, the most in any seven-day period in more than a century, CBS News reported.

A massive avalanche in Utah’s Millcreek Canyon killed four skiers and left four scrambling for help Saturday, officials said. The Unified Police Department identified the four victims who did not survive the incident as Sarah Moughamian, 29, Louis Holian, 26, Stephanie Hopkins, 26, and Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, 23. 

“We had two groups of individuals — one group from Big Cottonwood, one group from Millcreek,” Wayne Bassham, commander for Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, told KSL TV. “Apparently, they did not know each other; they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The four survivors, men between the ages of 23 and 38, were able to dig themselves out before they were flown off the mountain, one survivor with hypothermia, police said.

The tragedy took place in the Wilson Glade area, the Unified Police Department said. More than 40 rescuers spent hours battling dangerous conditions to search for the survivors. 

Due to the dangerous conditions, rescuers had to be flown in, officials reported. On Saturday, rescue teams focused on getting the survivors off the mountain, but with nightfall, recovery efforts for the four victims were resumed the next morning, authorities said.

“We had to have a hoist operation because we could not, at the time, land a helicopter safely in that area,” Bassham said.

That’s when rescuers realized there was a second group that got caught in the avalanche, KSL-TV reported.

“Today’s been a tough day,” said Bassham.“This is a really tragic situation."

Sgt. Melody Cutler described the weather conditions that day as sunny and warm, KUTV reported.

“I’m sure that's what these people were out just enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful weather,” she said. "Thought they'd go for a great ski and had it end in tragedy like this.”

All eight skiers were reported to have been well-prepared and had the necessary equipment for the conditions.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox called it a "terrible tragedy” and expressed his “gratitude to first responders and others who were part of the rescue and recovery,” he said in a tweet Saturday. "With avalanche danger high right now, please exercise extreme caution."

Twenty people have been killed in avalanches this winter, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Fourteen people have died in the U.S. in avalanches in just the last week, the most in any seven-day period in more than a century, CBS News reported.

Experts warn that avalanches can soon become more unpredictable, CBS reported. 

"Climate change is complicating efforts on when and how these avalanches can happen,” said Karl Birkeland, director of the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center. “Get the proper gear, forecast and training.”