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Search Resumes for 3 Utah Snowboarders

December 27, 2003

PROVO, Utah (AP) _ Rescue dogs joined emergency teams Saturday in the search for three snowboarders feared dead in an avalanche in the backcountry of northern Utah.

A helicopter crew dropped explosives in Provo Canyon in the morning to break up potential snow slides so search teams could safely get into the area. Rescue dogs were brought in to try to pick up the scent of the missing men.

Rod Newberry, 20, Adam Merz, 18, and Mike Hebert, 19, had been snowboarding with two friends when the avalanche swept down the canyon Friday afternoon. Their friends survived, but Newberry, Merz and Hebert were gone.

With the threat of another avalanche strong, the search for the three was called off Friday night. Loose snow was still trickling downhill, and masses of snow clinging to slopes above the search area. Explosive charges were dropped Saturday morning to trigger controlled avalanches to ease the danger.

``We’ve been informed that it’s more of a recovery effort at this point, but we’re still holding out hope that by some miracle we’ll find one of them alive,″ Utah County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dennis Harris said Saturday morning.

Craig Knight, a family friend of Herbert and Merz, said the men all grew up together in Utah County and had gone to the canyon Friday morning for a day of snowboarding.

``They liked to play, and they played hard,″ said Knight, who was serving as a spokesman for the families.

A snowshoer reported the avalanche Friday afternoon in the Aspen Grove area of Provo Canyon, about a mile north of Sundance ski resort, Harris said. The area is considered backcountry and has no avalanche control.

Dell Brown, who was snowshoeing with his family, said he and his wife fell to the ground and covered their two small children after the first slide. He said he saw one survivor and heard voices and called 911 before the second slide hit.

``We’re just very grateful for our safety,″ said Brown, whose voice quivered with emotion as he recounted the events. ``Each of those three slides, we were certain our lives were over.″

One of the snowboarders, Matt Long, 18, was buried to his chest in snow but dug himself out. Another, J.D. Settle, 20, was completely buried but was rescued by a bystander and escaped with only a knee injury.

The snowboarders, one of three groups caught by the avalanche, were swept a half mile down a narrow chute above Aspen Grove. Snow piled up 4- to 14- feet deep at the bottom of the slide, which Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said was about three city blocks wide.

The two slides that followed were smaller, Tracy said.

The avalanche hit near the end of a storm that dumped 29 inches of snow in the Sundance area in 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

It appeared the main avalanche broke away at the top of the chute and that none of the skiers or snowboarders appeared to have triggered it, Tracy said.

None of the snowboarders carried standard avalanche safety equipment such as radio transmitters, shovels or probe poles, Tracy said.

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