The heavy dose of white stuff dumped on Utah Monday may have been manna from heaven to Utah's ski resorts, but it came with a tragic price.
Utah's first major winter storm hit with a fury, leaving a Salt Lake County teenager dead from a traffic accident and causing scores of other minor accidents along the Wasatch Front, including a Davis County deputy sheriff who wrecked his patrol car en route to another accident.And as the storm moved southward, Garfield County deputies successfully raced to rescue two passengers in a long-range hot-air balloon that crashed in the rugged Mount Dutton area Monday morning.
"They are extremely lucky to be alive," said Kathy Holt of the Garfield County sheriff's office. Both passengers suffered back injuries and had to be carried out on stretchers.
A search plane from the Civil Air Patrol located the downed balloon about 10:30 a.m. in the Smith Canyon area about five miles southeast of Circleville, and ground searchers reached the site a short time later.
Ron Martin, 46, and Scott Hendricks, 30, both of Paris, Calif., were carried to a waiting ambulance about 11 a.m. and were rushed to Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch.
The men left a Disneyland parking lot in Orange County about 6 p.m. Sunday with no particular destination in mind. "They were going wherever the wind would take them," Holt said. "They knew they were going to take a trip; they just didn't know where."
Garfield County deputies rescued the men just before the severe storm was reaching southern Utah. "A couple of hours later and we might not have found them," Holt said.
The balloon went down shortly after 7 a.m. after communicating by radio to the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center that they were "in emergency descent and needed help."
"Their last known position was at the 7,500- to 8,000-foot level," said Ott Webb of the Civil Air Patrol. "We had a good idea of where they were." There were high winds at the time, which may have contributed to the crash.
Civil Air Patrol search aircraft in Salt Lake City and Cedar City were both grounded by the storm.
The storm is expected to leave 3 to 6 inches of snow in Utah's valleys and up to 2 feet of snow in the mountains, said William Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service. Snow flurries should continue through Monday night.
The snowstorm (dubbed a "commuter special" by Alder) struck just as commuters were packing the Salt Lake freeways and belt routes, causing a rash of first-storm fender benders.
In Magna, a head-on collision between a Granite School District bus and a car left a high school student dead. The bus was eastbound on 2820 South near 7575 West about 7:30 a.m. when the accident occurred.
Nori Neathery, 17, 3035 S. 50th West, was driving to Cyprus High School when her car slid out of control on a snowy road and hit the oncoming school bus. Neathery was pronounced dead at Pioneer Valley Hospital.
The driver of the empty bus, Ivin L. Labrum, 40, 3393 S. Patrick Drive, Magna, was uninjured.
In Utah County, a potentially deadly situation had a happy ending. Two 16-year-olds missing since Sunday in American Fork Canyon were found safe.
The heavy snows also spelled joy for Utah ski resorts. Brighton was planning to open its lifts Wednesday, and Alta will open by Saturday.