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Recovery effort for teens continues; app may help prevent future Utah Lake tragedies

(Family photos)



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SARATOGA SPRINGS — The desperate search for two missing teens on Utah Lake has changed to a recovery operation after officials say they believe the girls were likely drowned when high winds created dangerous conditions on the water.

After five days of sending search and rescue crews out to find the girls, deputies made the difficult decision to scale back their efforts.

It was last Wednesday afternoon when 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez and 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski were seen tubing on the lake.

Heavy winds picked up later in the afternoon and the girls could not be found. Their tubes were found nearly two miles south of where they got into the lake in the Saratoga Springs area.

“If they are in the water, then we believe that the worst has happened, and this will be a recovery not a rescue,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

Crews searched for the girls’ bodies from the air Monday.

“When a person is in the water and they start to come toward the surface, it’s much more easier to see them from the air,” said Sgt. Cannon. “It’s almost impossible to see them from the water unless you are right there where they are.”


We pull every minute, and if we detect any strong winds that are headed toward the lake, we will send out a text message or mobile notification. It’s something that needs to be taken seriously. Conditions can change in an instant.

–Software engineer Sean Thornton


The winds went from about 15 to about 40 miles an hour when the girls were on the lake. Officials said they believe the swells became too much, and the girls were likely overcome.

Boaters told KSL the lake can go from calm to chaotic within minutes when the winds pick up, easily capsizing watercraft.

“On Utah Lake they quickly become waves and it almost becomes impossible to navigate,” said Sgt. Cannon.

That’s why software engineer Sean Thornton has come with a new free app, called Windy Lookout. The app monitors the weather changes on Utah Lake minute by minute.

He hoped the app can help save lives in the future.

“We pull every minute, and if we detect any strong winds that are headed toward the lake, we will send out a text message or mobile notification,” said Thornton. “It’s something that needs to be taken seriously. Conditions can change in an instant.”

Sgt. Cannon said they planned to take cadaver dogs out Tuesday to search the lake’s shores for the girls. He said the dogs can find a body even through the water.

Dan Rascon

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