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Searchers Find Utah Avalanche Victim’s Hat

December 29, 2003

PROVO, Utah (AP) _ A dog found a cap that belonged to a missing snowboarder Sunday as recovery teams searched for three young men buried by a huge avalanche.

The black ski cap, found near an edge of the slide, was the first visible clue recovered since the snowboarders were caught by the rushing snow Friday in Provo Canyon. Searchers later found a snowboard and a backpack.

``We know they’re up there. It’s just a matter of time,″ Yvette Rice, a spokeswoman for the Utah County Sheriff’s office, said Sunday morning.

The search teams had clear weather part of the day Sunday but faced a threat of wind whipping the snow with gusts as high as 40 mph. The search was halted so crews could use explosives to blast away loose snow as a precaution against further avalanches.

Snow piled up by the avalanche, which swept a half mile down a narrow chute, was deeper in some places than initially believed, sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Harris said.

``At first we thought we were dealing with four to 14 feet. Now we’re dealing with anywhere up to 35 feet,″ Harris said Sunday.

According to a description given to the men’s families, the cap belonged to 18-year-old Adam Merz, Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said.

Merz, Rod Newberry, 20, and Mike Hebert, 19, were snowboarding with two other friends when they were swept away by the avalanche. The two other friends survived.

They were snowboarding in a remote area where there is no avalanche control, about a mile north of Sundance ski resort and about 25 miles northeast of Provo.