SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two Utah girls survived a deadly boating accident that claimed four lives after they swam for hours, singing songs and shouting prayers as they fought exhaustion, the father of one of the girls said Wednesday.
Tiffany Stoker and Tylinn Tilley, both 13, were on ski boat ride on a summery day during a long-planned lake trip with friends when a sudden storm kicked up late Monday afternoon, Jeff Stoker said.
High waves filled the boat and turned it over, throwing all seven people on board into the cold water at Bear Lake, which spans more than 112 square miles in Utah and Idaho.
The two lifelong friends decided to try and swim for shore, but the waves that frothed in the wind beat them back. As their energy flagged, they encouraged each other and massaged cramps out of each other's arms and legs.
"They definitely saved each other's lives," Jeff Stoker said. As the sun started setting three hours after the accident, they spotted a rescue boat and started shouting.
The girls were hospitalized with dangerously low body temperature, and doctors said they wouldn't have survived much longer, he said.
The swimming likely staved off the hypothermia that authorities contributed to four other deaths. Utah doctor Lance Capener, 46, died at the lake. His daughters, 13-year-old Kelsey Capener and 7-year-old Kilee Capener, and their friend, 13-year-old Siera Hadley, were pulled from the water but died at a hospital early the next morning.
His wife, Kathy Capener, 42, survived the accident.
Brett Hadley said his niece, Siera, held hands with her friends before a large wave ripped them apart. He said she decided to stay with the group at the boat, and was the last one pulled out of the water.
The group was reported missing at about 6 p.m., around the same time temperatures dropped and the National Weather Service tracked wind gusts of up to 51 mph in nearby Garden City. The windstorm that rolled in over nearby mountains produced giant waves that also ripped to pieces a floating plastic dock at a nearby Boy Scout camp.
All seven people on the boat wore lifejackets, but the water was 53 degrees Fahrenheit, posing a serious hypothermia risk, authorities said. Rescuers searched for hours in conditions that Garden City fire Chief Mike Wahlberg said were some of the worst he'd seen and "about as extreme as it gets."
Bear Lake is about 120 miles north of Salt Lake City.