- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Rescue dogs joined emergency teams yesterday in the search for three snowboarders feared dead in an avalanche in the backcountry of northern Utah.

A helicopter crew dropped explosives in Provo Canyon in the morning to break up potential snow slides so search teams could get into the area safely. Rescue dogs were brought in to try to pick up the scent of the missing men.

Rod Newberry, 20, Adam Merz, 18, and Mike Hebert, 19, had been snowboarding with two friends when the avalanche swept down the canyon Friday afternoon. Their friends survived, but Mr. Newberry, Mr. Merz and Mr. Hebert were gone.

With the threat of another avalanche strong, the search for the three was called off Friday night. Loose snow still trickled downhill, and masses of snow clung to slopes above the search area. Explosive charges were dropped yesterday to trigger controlled avalanches to ease the danger.

“We’ve been informed that it’s more of a recovery effort at this point, but we’re still holding out hope that, by some miracle, we’ll find one of them alive,” Utah County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dennis Harris said yesterday.

Craig Knight, a family friend of Mr. Hebert and Mr. Merz, said the men all grew up together in Utah County and had gone to the canyon Friday morning for a day of snowboarding.

“They liked to play, and they played hard,” said Mr. Knight, who was serving as a spokesman for the families.

A snowshoer reported the avalanche Friday afternoon in the Aspen Grove area of Provo Canyon, about a mile north of Sundance ski resort, Sgt. Harris said. The area is considered backcountry and has no avalanche control.

Dell Brown, who was snowshoeing with his family, said he and his wife fell to the ground and covered their two small children after the first slide. He said he saw one survivor and heard voices and called 911 before the second slide hit.

“We’re just very grateful for our safety,” said Mr. Brown, whose voice quivered with emotion as he recounted the events. “Each of those three slides, we were certain our lives were over.”

One of the snowboarders, Matt Long, 18, was buried to his chest in snow but dug himself out. Another, J.D. Settle, 20, was completely buried but was rescued by a bystander and escaped with only a knee injury.

The avalanche hit near the end of a storm that dumped 29 inches of snow in the Sundance area in 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

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