Utah teenagers swept away while tubing after intense winds strike, family holds out hope as search continues

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Authorities in Utah are returning to a lake on Sunday as search efforts continue for two missing teenage girls who were swept away while tubing when intense winds struck last week.

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office said Priscilla Bienkowski, 18, of Saratoga Springs and Sophia Hernandez, 17, of Eagle Mountain were reported missing on Wednesday while they were tubing on Utah Lake, located south of Salt Lake City.

The two friends are believed to have been on pool floats in an area on the southwest side of the lake known as “The Knolls” on Wednesday when windy conditions moved in. Utah County Sheriff Sgt. Spencer Cannon told FOX13 that authorities are investigating all possibilities.

“Because we didn’t get a witness report of the girls going under water and not coming back up, we have to keep our minds open to the possibility that they might have gotten out somehow,” he said.

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Witnesses reported seeing the girls on the lake before the gusty winds struck.

Priscilla Bienkowski, 18, of Saratoga Springs and Sophia Hernandez, 17, of Eagle Mountain were reported missing on Wednesday while they were on Utah Lake, located south of Salt Lake City.

Priscilla Bienkowski, 18, of Saratoga Springs and Sophia Hernandez, 17, of Eagle Mountain were reported missing on Wednesday while they were on Utah Lake, located south of Salt Lake City. (Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

On Saturday, friends and family members gathered for a vigil in honor of the teens, as the duo’s parents held photos and spoke about their daughters.

Family members on Saturday held a vigil for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake.

Family members on Saturday held a vigil for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake. (Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

“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, Sophia’s father.

Family members told FOX13 they were staying hopeful that someone will be able to find the teenagers.

Family members on Saturday held a vigil for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake.

Family members on Saturday held a vigil for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake. (Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

“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.

Keri Malloy, who was out with her daughter on Utah Lake around 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, said it was a beautiful day with a slight breeze before a cold front quickly brought heavy winds and high waves.

Authorities have been searching for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake.

Authorities have been searching for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake. (Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

“My heart just sunk,” she told FOX13. “I could see how it was so calm and just turned so bad so fast, they wouldn’t have had a chance.”

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A kite-surfer who was out on the lake at the time told ABC4 that conditions quickly turned dangerous, with swells 3 to 6 feet high as winds gusted up to 50 mph that made him ditch his gear for the first time on Wednesday.

Authorities have been searching for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake.

Authorities have been searching for Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, who were reported missing on Wednesday after they were last seen tubing on Utah Lake. (Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

“You only ditch your gear when you’re worried about your life,” Jay Gold told the television station.

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Investigators have been focused on an 8.5-mile search area near the area known as “The Knolls.”

On Saturday, searchers were out on jet-skis looking for the two teens.

“Boats with side scan sonar and wave runners will be conducting grid searches,” Cannon tweeted.

A helicopter from Utah Public Safety has also been part of search efforts.

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Anyone with information about the missing girls is asked to contact Central Utah Dispatch at 801-794-3970.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed