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Avalanche victims' bodies recovered from Millcreek Canyon; Experts talk backcountry preparedness, high risk levels

Posted at 11:56 AM, Feb 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 01:38:52-05

MILLCREEK, Utah — The four people killed in Saturday's avalanche in Millcreek Canyon have been identified and successfully recovered from the mountain.

There were two groups skiing in the area when the avalanche was triggered: one group of five people and one group of three. Police initially received a distress call that indicated there were five buried.

The avalanche swept all eight individuals away. They were all well-prepared and had the necessary equipment for the conditions, but only four were able to dig themselves out.

The four survivors, all men between the age of 23 and 38, were hoisted off the mountain by LifeFlight helicopters with no life-threatening injuries.

Due to unstable conditions, recovery efforts for the four deceased were paused until Sunday morning.

UPD confirmed that the deceased skiers are:

  • 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian of Sandy
  • 26-year old Louis Holian of Salt Lake City
  • 26-year-old Stephanie Hopkins of Salt Lake City
  • 23-year-old Thomas Louis Steinbrecher of Salt Lake City

By 3:30 p.m. Sunday, their bodies had been transported off the mountain by the Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter, combined with rope-assisted ground operations by the Salt Lake County Search and Rescue and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue volunteer teams. All rescuers on the ground were able to ski out of the area safely.

Gov. Spencer Cox issued the following statement in response to the news:

  • “The tragedy in Millcreek Canyon which claimed the lives of four young Utahns has shaken and saddened all of us. Abby and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of Sarah Moughamian, Louis Holian, Stephanie Hopkins and Thomas Louis Steinbrecher during this heartbreaking time. We also extend our sympathies to their companions who escaped harm and thank all of the brave individuals involved in the recovery efforts.”

University of Utah Health said Sunday that Hopkins was a nurse there and was well-loved.

"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," the hospital wrote on Twitter. "Hopkins worked in the neuro critical care unit and was loved and respected by her colleagues. We send our condolences to her family and loved ones during this difficult time."

The Utah Avalanche Center says the state is seeing an unprecedented year for avalanches. There have been six deaths in under a month.

Conditions are dangerous, so experts advise anyone planning on entering the backcountry to check for updates, have all the proper rescue gear and plan to take a free avalanche class.

A GoFundMe has been set up for the victims and their families.