Authorities returned to Utah Lake Sunday to resume searching for two teenage girls who were likely swept away by strong winds while tubing off-shore near the Knolls, a common recreation area where people regularly fish and swim.
On Wednesday, 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez of Eagle Mountain, Utah, were reported missing. State and county authorities have searched everyday since their disappearance, Sgt. Spencer Cannon, public information officer for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, tells TIME. The search and rescue operations have included boats, helicopters and dogs.
Weather data from Wednesday suggests the wind reached speeds of 20 mph and increased to 40 mph and higher later through the evening, according to Cannon. The tubes the girls were likely on were not designed for recreational water, but Cannon says even if they had been on stronger tubes, they could have likely still been swept away given how fast the wind speeds reached.
Although the sheriff’s department says they have two reliable witnesses who saw the girls a short distance from where they got on the tubes on Wednesday before they were reported missing, authorities have not heard from anyone who actually saw the girls go under water.
Authorities have since retrieved both tubes: one 3.2 miles south of where they believe the girls were on the water and another 8.5 miles south of the area, according to Cannon.
“We have to leave open the possibility…” that the girls may be on land, Cannon says. Still, “the bulk of the evidence suggests they were on the water,” he said.
On Saturday, family members and friends of the two teenagers held a vigil for them.
Family members told local TV news station FOX13 that they were holding onto hope that their daughters will be found.
“I feel in my heart that there is hope, that these girls are out there somewhere, and I believe they could come back to us,” said Nancy Sepulveda, Priscilla’s mom, FOX13 reported.
Sophia’s father also wished for his daughter’s safe return. “We don’t want the worst-case scenario, we want them back home because they are our girls and we can’t be without them,” said Jimmy Hernandez.
Cannon notes that this Mother’s Day is likely particularly heart-wrenching for the mothers of both girls. “One of the bitter ironies of this particular day is everybody wants to be at home with their mothers on Mother’s Day and we have two mothers right now that are without their daughters and that’s hurting them,” he says.
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