UPDATED: Authorities identify Washington County man who died in ‘abnormally large’ avalanche

Stock image used for illustrative purposes only. Photo courtesy of Dahu1 via Wikimedia Commons, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Crews searching in Piute County for a snowmobiler who got lost in an avalanche Thursday evening have reported that they have located the body of the missing man. Authorities confirmed he is deceased, and just before noon Friday, they released his identity as Brad Stapley, 41, of St. George.

As originally reported, three men from Washington County were in an area that locals refer to as the “bowl” on Circleville Mountain near Circleville at around 5 p.m. when the avalanche occurred. The area is popular among more advanced snowmobilers, Beaver County Sheriff’s Sgt. Glen Woolsey told St. George News.

“This area is known for having avalanches, but from my understanding in talking with people, this avalanche was abnormally large,” Woolsey said. “It was probably about 100 yards across.”

One of the snowmobilers had turned left from the other two who were traveling right, Woolsey said, and when he looked back, he saw the snow break away and his friends caught in it. He was able to escape but was unable to find the other two riders for some time, but then he spotted one of his friends emerge from the snow, Woolsey said.

“He was completely buried in the snow except one hand that somehow didn’t get buried,” he said. “He used that hand to dig himself out.”

The man was taken to the local hospital to be treated for minor injuries. He was released a short time later and was available to assist authorities Friday in their search.

The area was still too dangerous Thursday night to get into, Woolsey said, and without any daylight hours left, search and rescue crews were not able to start their search for Stapley until Friday morning. However, authorities did send in a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter to assess the area and possibly locate the missing rider. UHP also tried pinging his cell phone but were unsuccessful, Woolsey said.

Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, a team of specialized search and rescue crews skilled in explosives and avalanches, were brought in Friday morning to assist local crews in the search. Beaver County and Piute County are also on scene, along with 4 K-9 officers and four teams of dog handlers all trained in avalanche searches and locating victims in the snow.

This is a developing story.

Updated Feb. 8, 12:02 p.m. to include the authorities identification of Brad Stapley.

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