STRAWBERRY RESERVOIR, Utah – For more than a decade, the remains of several boaters have been hidden in the dark, cold depths of this 26-square-mile lake high in the Uinta National Forest.
Then, in a span of just two weeks, Strawberry Reservoir gave up six of its dead during a search for a couple whose boat capsized in mid-November.
What loosened the reservoir's grip on the dead was sonar, which transmits high-frequency waves through water and registers vibrations that bounce off an object.
Search and rescue crews in the past dragged the lake for bodies with a triangular sheet of metal that had hooks on it, said Lt. Jeff Winterton of the Wasatch County sheriff's office in central Utah.
But when Steven Roundy, 28, and his wife, Catheryn, 23, disappeared from their overturned aluminum fishing boat Nov. 8, authorities were able to search for the bodies with recently acquired sonar equipment.
Freezing water temperatures, 90-foot depths and an elevation of more than 7,600 feet made it too dangerous to send divers to look for the couple.
Rescuers thought they had located one of the Roundys on Nov. 11 when the first blip appeared on the sonar screen. But video from the lake bottom indicated otherwise. It was the body of Drake McMillan, a 46-year-old Salt Lake City man who disappeared while swimming Aug. 31, 2001.
"We were very surprised and somewhat taken back when the first victim we found was not one of the Roundys," said Utah Department of Public Safety Capt. Doug McCleve.
A few days later, the sonar picked up two more bodies, believed to be two of three men missing since a 1995 fishing trip.
"When we started doing the autopsies and identified the remains we found, it (brought) a sense of closure to one family, but still not the other one. Then we find other bodies and it's still not the Roundys," Winterton said. "I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason."
Searchers found the Roundy bodies on Nov. 17.
If the couple's bodies had been found first, deputies would have ended their search and none of the other bodies would have been discovered.
Because of their success with the sonar, crews continued to look for the third member of the 1995 fishing party. On Monday, they located another body, which might be that man, deputies said.
If so, authorities will be able to account for every person believed to have drowned in the lake in the past decade.
"A bad situation actually turned out to be somewhat of a good situation because of the bodies we recovered ... and peace that's returned to those families," Winterton said.
On Wednesday, authorities identified the remains of one member of the 1995 fishing party: Phillip Shepherd, 26, of Spanish Fork. His fishing buddies, Austin Lloyd and Daniel Maycock, both 19 and from Spanish Fork, have not been identified.
"This is as hard as the first time," Tom Lloyd, Austin's father, told the Deseret Morning News. "It's heartache. Pure heartache."