2 Young Sisters Killed By Flash Flooding While Hiking in Utah

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
May 14, 2020US News
2 Young Sisters Killed By Flash Flooding While Hiking in Utah
Sisters Kinzley (L) and Ellie (R) from Salt Lake City. (GoFundMe)

Flash flooding during a thunderstorm has claimed the lives of two young sisters after raging floodwaters swept them away from their parents through a narrow slot of the Little Wildhorse Canyon in Utah earlier this week, authorities said.

Officials with the Emery County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) announced in an updated statement on Facebook that the search for the last remaining missing girl—identified as Ellie on GoFundMe—has ended.

“A very sad ending to the search for the missing 3-year-old girl today,” police said.

Ellie’s body was found by a helicopter from Utah’s DPS Aero Bureau around 12 a.m. Tuesday on the bank of a wash about 28 miles downstream from where she was last seen in Little Wildhorse Canyon, according to the statement.

Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk said that four family members—the two girls, their mother, and an uncle—were hiking about 3 miles into the canyon when the storm hit.

NTD Photo
The family from Salt Lake City poses for a selfie with Tim (L), Kinzley, and Ellie (C) and Becky (L). (GoFundMe)

The sheriff’s office said that 67 personnel had assisted in the search for Ellie on May 11, and that about 80 people had searched by foot, motorcycle, and air the next day.

Tim, the girls’ father who was around the mouth of the canyon when the storm hit, soon found the body of his 7-year-old daughter Kinzley near the mouth of the canyon before authorities were called to the scene on May 11, police said.

“It is with great sadness that ECSO confirms that the deceased victim of yesterday’s flash flood in Little Wildhorse Canyon is a 7-year-old Utah girl,” police said.

The family, who lives in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan, was out camping in the area for Mother’s Day, Deseret News reported.

NTD Photo
The family from Salt Lake City with Tim (R) and Kinzley, Ellie and Becky sitting inside vehicle. (GoFundMe)

The girls, their mother, Becky, and Tim were “always on a family adventure … biking, hiking, camping,” according to the GoFundMe page that was created to support the family during the unexpected tragedy.

“Words cannot describe the heartbreak of what has happened and the support from family, friends, and those who just want to be able to send prayers, love and thoughts to honor their beautiful daughters is truly needed,” the page read.

Emery County police expressed their “deepest sympathy” in a statement towards the family who have suffered an unimaginable tragic loss. The department also expressed their gratitude to all those involved in the search.

Following the incident, also Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement expressing his gratitude to all those who helped to locate the two girls.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic incident that happened in Little Wildhorse Canyon,” he said on Twitter.

“Jeannette [Herbert’s wife] and I extend our deepest sympathies to the family who lost their two daughters in yesterday’s flash flood,” the Gov. said. “Utah mourns with the family and prays that they may be comforted in this heartbreaking time.”

At least 21 other hikers were able to escape the flooding that day in Little Wildhorse Canyon, including Becky and the girls’ uncle. Becky was sent to hospital, although her injuries were not said to be life-threatening.

The curving sandstone walls are so narrow at points within the canyons that hikers must turn sideways to walk through.

NTD Photo
This October 2016, provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a slot canyon at Little Wild Horse Canyon, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City, Utah. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management, via AP)
Utah canyon
This image taken in 2012 and provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a slot canyon at Little Wild Horse Canyon, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City, Utah. (Matt Blocker/Bureau of Land Management via AP)

Tom Gowan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah, said on Twitter that he was also hiking in the canyon together with his wife and a friend when the “freak incident” happened.

“It only took about 15 min for the rain to produce a raging river,” Gowan said. “Heavy rain/hail in slot canyons is extremely dangerous.”

Gowan also filmed the incident, with water seen flowing down from the canyon.

“Within seconds it was a violent 3 to 4-ft deep river,” he said in the caption of the video.

“These are very low probability, high consequence events. In the moment, it felt like overkill to turn around before any rain had fallen,” Gowan said.

“Fortunately, we knew to not mess around with rain over or near slot canyons,” he added. “Public awareness of these risks is extremely important.”

Gowan’s wife, Taylor, also shared on Twitter following the “horrific experience” what she encountered while hiking in the canyon. She hopes everyone takes the dangers of flash flooding in canyons seriously.

“My husband, our friend, my puppy and I were caught in this flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon today. At the 1st sign of thunder we turned around and got to higher ground,” Taylor said on Twitter, adding a video from her experience.

“Never underestimate the power of a flash flood,” she added. “Thankful to be safe.”

A Risk in the Canyon

Floodings hit after an isolated thunderstorm storm crossed nearby Goblin Valley State Park, known for its otherworldly bulbous stone formations.

Little Wild Horse Canyon is considered a popular, family-friendly trail that displays awe-inspiring colorful stone walls, but flash flooding is a risk in the narrow formations known as a slot canyon.

NTD Photo
A sign at the Little Wild Horse Canyon that reads “Extreme Flash Flood Danger, No Camping or Parking in the Canyon Bottom.” (Emery County Sheriff’s Office)

Desert rains can be dangerous because the hard earth doesn’t soak up much water. Instead, the rain collects quickly, often filling narrow slot canyons like a bathtub.

The tall, undulating walls have few exits for any hikers inside when the weather hits, quickly turning a casual hike into a dangerous situation.

In 2015, seven hikers died when a storm sent water rushing into a slot canyon in southern Utah’s Zion National Park.

Floodwaters also killed a dozen people in a polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border that year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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