LOCAL NEWS

Search For Missing Teens At Utah Lake Enters Recovery Phase

May 10, 2020, 5:28 PM | Updated: Jul 13, 2023, 2:03 pm

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — Two women are holding onto hope, spending Mother’s Day on Utah Lake as the now five day search for their missing teen daughters enters a recovery phase.

Rescue efforts for 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez and 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski will be scaled back on the water, and will instead focus on an aerial search.

“If they are in the water, then it is a recovery. There’s no way that if they are in the water that they could have survived or did survive,” said Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

Cannon said they’re actively investigating other scenarios.

“Someone had suggested perhaps kidnapping or a runaway joke or something like that,” he said. “We don’t believe those were the case.”

He said the evidence points to the lake’s west side where two confirmed witnesses said they spotted the girls around 3 p.m. Wednesday before a strong wind front caused a surge in waves.

“We have two very reliable witnesses who saw them on the water, a short distance apart from each other,” Cannon said.

According to Cannon, the witnesses spotted them near the Knolls area where the girls’ belongings were later found.

One witness spotted them as they were getting into the water, and reported they floated south.

The second witnesses spotted them further south, but neither reported seeing them in trouble.

“We are still not a hundred percent certain that the girls went under the water. We don’t have a witness who saw that,” Cannon said.

The girls had been to the area earlier in the week, and even posted about it on social media.

Search efforts have focused on a 3- by 2-mile area of the total 8-mile search. That area was highlighted on a map shared by Sgt. Cannon.

The colored lines represent the GPS trackers of the various agencies that have helped out in the search, including Weber County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Public Safety, and other volunteers.

Search efforts will continue moving further south towards the location where the second inflatable duck was spotted by Chopper 5. This marks the southern most point of the 8-mile search area.

The first duck was about 3.2 miles south of the Knolls area.

“If you describe needle in a haystack, that would be a very accurate description,” Cannon said of the search area. “If we were to search the whole area, we’d have another 6.5 miles to search, and that’s all in line where the yellow duck tubes were found.”

Family members were taken for a look at the area Sunday as rescue crews worked tirelessly to bring them closure.

“Especially on a day like today where it’s mother’s day, so our primary focus is the two mother’s here who are missing their daughters,” Cannon said.

Cannon said with the scaled back search on the water, a few boats will remain at the command center.

Authorities have also brought out a few cadaver dogs to assist on the water.

Family members have continued to express their gratitude for the community’s support.

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Search For Missing Teens At Utah Lake Enters Recovery Phase