SALT LAKE CITY – Search teams digging through tons of snow Sunday found the body of one of five people feared buried by a powerful avalanche (search) in an area that skiers had been warned to avoid.
The victim was identified as Shane Maixner, 27, of Sandpoint, Idaho. His body was found under 4 feet of snow after trained dogs alerted the teams searching the area of Friday's slide, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said at a news conference.
"If anybody could have survived, it would have been Shane," his father, Joel Maixner, said from his North Dakota home. "He was in excellent condition. But the sheriff told me his head and chest were slammed into a tree. He died without a fight."
Seven people have been killed in Utah avalanches this winter — more than any year since the state started keeping records in 1951. It's still relatively early in the season.
Edmunds said other clothing — sweat shirts and gloves — was discovered in Sunday's search, possibly indicating more victims.
Several eyewitnesses claimed they saw multiple people buried in the avalanche near Park City (search), about 20 miles east of Salt Lake City. But Maixner was the only one who had been identified even before his body was found; a friend told a 911 dispatcher he saw him caught by the cascading mass of snow.
"We have found the individual we absolutely, categorically knew was in that debris field," Edmunds said. "Hopefully, there won't be any more."
Police have removed about 40 names from a potential victim's list. Edmunds asked any out-of-state vacationers to contact their families to let them know they are safe. "We want to clear names," he said.
There were no local people on that list.
Edmunds said authorities would not stop looking until they recover the body of anyone they suspect was caught in the avalanche. But he would call off the search "if we feel like the trail has gone cold, and we have taxed our resources."
Shane Maixner graduated in December from University of Montana with a pre-med degree. He had just moved to Idaho to live with his sister and was looking for a job in Utah as a physician assistant, his father said.
More than 150 rescue workers and 20 dogs resumed the search at sunrise Sunday in an out-of-bounds area near The Canyons resort that had been marked with skull and crossbones warning signs because of the avalanche danger.
If Sunday's sweep failed to find any additional bodies, authorities hoped to begin using ground-penetrating radar on Monday. If that is not possible, machines to take away layers of snow might be used, Edmunds said.
The Wasatch mountain range (search) has had two weeks of wet, heavy snow that created an extreme risk of avalanches, especially in the backcountry.