One individual was killed after being buried by an avalanche near Cedar Fort on Monday.
The Utah County Sheriff’s Office received a call just after 6 p.m. reporting that at least one individual had been trapped by an avalanche in Pole Canyon, northwest of Cedar Fort.
A 38-year-old man, later identified as Brett Howard Warner, of Highland, was snowmobiling with a family member near the top of Pole Canyon when the avalanche started, according to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.
“The avalanche apparently slid down the ridgeline about 1,500 feet down the mountain – a distance of about a little more than half a mile,” says Sgt. Spencer Cannon, Public Information Officer with the UCSO.
Warner, who was an experienced snowmobiler, was carrying backcountry avalanche safety equipment and deployed his emergency airbag, meant to prevent the wearer from becoming completely buried by an avalanche, but the Utah County Sheriff’s Office says it was ineffective against the volume of snow.
Both Warner and the other snowmobiler were also wearing emergency beacons, says Cannon.
“The way those beacons work is that it’s on ‘transmit mode’ when you’re up engaging in your activity. If something happens and somebody gets buried, as we believe happened in this situation, then you turn your own beacon on to ‘receive mode’ so you receive the signal from the person who is in trouble.”
Utah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue arrived on the scene by LifeFlight and DPS helicopters, according to Cannon.
Though the rescue mission did not pose “unreasonable risk” to team members, Cannon says the area still has “considerable” avalanche danger.
“Conditions like this area are very difficult… It’s challenging, it’s very steep terrain,” he says. “There are other areas in this bowl-shaped area where avalanche conditions exist, and you have to be cautious of those possibilities.”
Rescuers used new technology, a long probe that emits noise when contact is made with an avalanche victim’s transmitter, to find the location where Warner was buried. At 8:19 p.m., Warner was discovered deceased under 22 feet of snow by Utah County Search and Rescue.
Rescue crews recovered Warner’s body and removed it from the mountain with the help of the DPS helicopter crew.
Cannon says the avalanche traveled more than half a mile and it was estimated to be more than 30 feet deep at the bottom of the slide.
According to FEMA, an average of 28 people die each winter in avalanches in the United States. Learn more about avalanche preparedness.