Avalanche claims life of Nephi man

A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter searches the slopes of eastern side Skyline Drive near Electric Lake with a spotlight, but ultimately the body of a lost skier was detected by the sensitive nose of the search dog Lucy

Avalanche claims life of Nephi man

Sanpete Search and Rescue help recover body


By Robert Stevens




MANTI-LA SAL NATIONAL FOREST—Sanpete Search and Rescue volunteers helped recover the body of a skier last weekend after he was buried in an avalanche near Electric Lake.

Michael Besendorf, 26, of Nephi, the son of a family physician widely known in Central Utah, was skiing in a remote area north of Electric Lake on the Emery County side of Skyline Drive last Friday, Jan. 18, when an avalanche buried him during a ski run.

His skiing partner became concerned when he didn’t return from a run, and hiked back up the

slope to discover an avalanche had been triggered.

Sanpete Search and Rescue, Emery County Search and Rescue and a Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter team arrived on the scene around 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, but darkness and inability to assess avalanche danger limited the search effort, according to the Emery County Sheriff’s Office. At midnight, volunteers decided to regroup the next day.

When search resumed Saturday morning, Jan. 18, Utah Department of Transportation crews used explosives to blast unstable areas of the slopes while a Utah Avalanche Center forecaster monitored conditions. A helicopter, along with volunteers on snowmobiles, timber sleds, snow cats, skis and snow shoes, joined in the effort.

Search dog Lucy

A breakthrough came after a search dog, Lucy, was flown in, along with rescue teams from the Alta Ski Area and Wasatch Back Country Rescue.

About noon, Lucy detected Besendorfer’s body, and recovery efforts began.

Emery County Sheriff Greg Funk wanted to extend a huge thank you to all agencies involved in the search.

“It was a combined effort by Emery County Sheriff Search and Rescue, Sanpete County Search and Rescue, Utah DPS helicopter crew, Utah State Parks, UDOT, the Forest Service, the Utah Avalanche Center, Wasatch Back County Rescue and the Alta Ski Area,” he said.

“Conditions were difficult and we are grateful for the safety of all involved in the search and recovery effort. Our sincere condolences are extended to the Besendorfer family during this difficult time.”

The victim was the son of Dr. James Besendorf, who practices at Central Valley Medical Center in Nephi, and his wife Lila. He loved outdoor adventure, and according to an obituary, had “hiked, biked, skied, fished, hunted and camped all over Utah as well as in most of the Western states, Hawaii and Canada.” Funeral services were held Wednesday in Nephi.