Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-02-06
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Lone Peak Area, Little Cottonwood Canyon
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowshoer caught, buried, and killed

Snowshoer swept away by 200-foot-long slide

By Jason Swensen and Spencer Young, Deseret News

? ? ? DRAPER ? A Sandy man died Saturday afternoon after being buried in an avalanche in Little Willow Canyon above Draper.

? ? ? Justin Heil, 22, had been snowshoeing with two friends when he was swept under a 200-foot-long slide that was 20 feet deep in places, according to Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Lane Larkin.

? ? ? Heil's two friends, Aaron Bruder and Steve Parkins, both 24 and both of Salt Lake County, were not caught or injured in the slide.

? ? ? The trio reportedly left Saturday morning for a day of mountain snowshoeing. Shortly after noon, the three were traversing an area in Little Willow Canyon. Heil told his friends he "had a real bad feeling about being up there" and decided to turn back, said sheriff's deputy Peggy Faulkner.

? ? ? Heil left Brudder and Parkins and was walking through the Little Willow creek area below when the avalanche started, Larkin said.

? ? ? Brudder and Parkins rushed to the area where the slide rested but could not find their friend, who had been buried under the snow. Heil was not wearing an avalanche locator beacon, Larkin said.

? ? ? Larkin said the snowshoers could have triggered the avalanche, adding any sort of noise or movement can impact unstable snow fields.

? ? ? Brudder and Parkins then hiked out of the mouth of the canyon near 11800 South and 2700 East where they reportedly called police from a resident's home.

? ? ? Russ Harward was snowshoeing up Little Willow Canyon when he saw the two hiking out. The men told him their friend had been buried by the avalanche as they climbed a hill.

? ? ? Harward said the snow was not very deep on the main trail. On parts, no snow covered the trail. Harward, Sandy, hikes in the canyon often, but has never seen an avalanche.

? ? ? A pair of helicopters were called, but there was no area inside canyon where the aircraft could safely land ? and there was near white-out conditions because of blowing snow in some areas, Larkin said.

? ? ? Instead, members of Salt Lake County's Search and Rescue Unit, along with a team of search dogs and the their handlers, battled blizzard conditions in making their way to the avalanche scene.

? ? ? The search dogs were able to locate Heil's body about 6 p.m.

? ? ? Larkin said it would have been a "miracle" to find Heil still alive under the snow. He was buried for about five hours before searchers found him dead.

? ? ? Larkin admitted he was concerned for the welfare of the more than 30 rescue workers who went into the canyon to recover Heil's body because of the treacherous conditions. All returned without injury.

? ? ? Recent snowfall has left Wasatch Front ripe for slides. Law officers recommend that people call the Avalanche Forecast Service hotline at 364-1581 before recreating in the backcountry.