Guide to the 5 Worst Accidents in Utah History

Worst Accidents in Utah History

An accident is one of the worst experiences of a person’s life. From regular fender benders to a crash on the Frontrunner, accidents can cause immense trauma. Although, after an accident, you never want to hear someone say, “it could have been worse.” This observation is usually true. The worst accident is probably not going to happen to you. However, this does not discount your pain. A car accident can seriously injure you and those you love. Some accidents are far worse than others. The following is a list of some of the worst disasters we have encountered. These accidents do not necessarily have the most massive numbers of deaths, but instead are those that have had lasting impact or accidents that officials have dubbed, “the worst” they have ever seen.

Bagley Train Wreck, The Great Salt Lake 1944worst utah accidents

In 1944, a Pullman car passenger train was passing west of Ogden by the Great Salt Lake full of soldiers returning home after serving in World War II. Around 6 a.m. on December 31, two westbound trains crashed near Promontory point. The Standard-Examiner headline for the day following the crash read, “Pacific Limited Crash claims 48 lives. According to the article, a “[r]eporter [found] tragic horror at wreck scene” and that the wreck reminded one victim of war because “[s]creams, moans rend the air at the wreck scene.” The Deseret News reported that veteran railroad workers were left in tears as they saw the fiery wreck. They later described the incident as “the worst wreck they had seen in all their days on the tracks.”

Not only were there 48 deaths, but also a reported 79 were injured. Among those that were killed were 35 military personnel and nine railroad workers. According to the article in the Standard-Examiner, this wreck was the worst railroad disaster in the Intermountain area. As time passed, the total dead rose to 50 from injuries.

Reports say that the accident came about as a thick fog obscured the vision of a mail express train. The mail express did not slow its speed for a caution sign and crashed into the rear of a Pullman car passenger train at 60 miles per hour. The passenger train had slowed down to 18 miles per hour for a freight train ahead of it with mechanical problems. Conflicting accounts say that the engineer of the mail train had a heart attack and died a few moments before the accident. As the trains collided, seven rail cars were thrown from the wooden trestles and landed in the shallow mud of the Great Salt Lake. The article states that the wreck scattered debris stretched a half-mile.

Luckily, the Pullman passenger car had two medical cars, so Medical Corps members were able to help those who had been injured by the violent crash. If the medical professionals had not been there, the victims would have had to wait for the arrival of another train from Ogden. To this day, the rusting remains of the wreck can be seen by the Great Salt Lake.

Tragic Train/Bus Collision, 1938

On December 1, 1938, a Jordan High School-bound school bus was driving through a thick winter storm. As the bus approached the railroad crossing at 10200 South and 400 West, the driver pulled to a stop to check the tracks for any approaching trains. Because of a thick fog which clouded the man’s view, he failed to see the 80-plus car train coming fast from Denver. The bus slowly crept over the tracks. The train operator managed to see the bus on the tracks and quickly pulled the emergency brake, however, his action failed to prevent the accident.

The resulting accident was devastating. According to an article in the Deseret News, “the collision claimed the lives of 23 children and the bus driver.” Only 15 people survived. Those who survived dealt with a life full of “serious physical injuries and emotional scars.” This accident eventually prompted the railroad crossing laws and mechanical crossing arms along with other national regulations which still are in place today. For example, today, school buses are still required to stop at all train tracks and also open their doors to ensure there are not any trains barreling down the tracks. Later, in 2013, the city of South Jordan erected a memorial at Heritage Park on 10778 S. Redwood Road commemorating the 75th anniversary of the event.

30 Car Pileup, 2018

This accident is far more recent. We chose this accident for the sheer number of vehicles involved, not because of the severity of the injuries, although one individual did pass away. The massive vehicle pileup occurred on March 26. Around 7:20 a.m., snow began to fall near Echo Junction. Somewhere along mile marker 172, sheets of ice had frozen on the road. Drivers were speeding along a little too fast given the circumstances when suddenly, the cars hit the ice, they all began to slide. This chain reaction resulted in a crash involving 30 different vehicles, including 15 tractor trailers.

According to an article on KSL’s website, Lt. Harley Watkins told news reporters, “It was a very significant crash. In 18 years, this is one of the worst [he had] seen.” This accident involved significant property damage. 

Hole-in-the-Rock Accident, 1963

In 1963, a cattle-truck filled with over 40 Boy Scouts and leaders from the Provo-area was driving along a dusty road in Southern Utah near Escalante. The truck slowly crept up a steep 8 percent grade hill. The truck was in high gear, and as the driver attempted to shift down, however, the clutch never engaged. He tried to punch the brake, but the truck didn’t respond. The truck suddenly began to roll backward for 124 feet, over an embankment and crashed to the bottom of a 35-foot steep ravine. The accident claimed the lives of 12 of the Scouts. A 13th victim passed away the next day in a hospital in Panguitch. Another 35 people were seriously injured.

The Deseret News reported that the leaders had packed 40 plus people into a 2.5-ton cattle truck as they were traveling to the Hole-in-the-Rock. Apparently, there would be another 50 boaters that would meet them there for a Colorado River run. The families and friends of those who passed away put together a monument on the accident’s 30th anniversary in 1993.

“Worst” Bear Lake Boat Accident, 2015

In June of 2015, a group of seven people was boating on Bear Lake roughly six miles north of the marina when a sudden storm arose. Severe winds began to stir up six to ten-foot waves. The boat was designed for water skiing and wakeboarding, so it sat lower in the water. The lower design caused the boat to capsize because of the rough waves. The accident killed four people and injured three others as the group plunged into the 53-degree waters. One of the problems of this wreck is the Utah State Park rangers did not hear about the accident for a while. After hearing about the accident, it took the rangers a few hours to locate the group because of the bad weather. Because of this, the sheriff reported that members in the group were in the water for over five hours.

According to an article on Fox 13’s website, Rich County Sheriff Dale Stacey told reporters, “This is the single worst tragedy that I have seen on this lake.” Richard Droesbeke, the park manager said the victims were located and found in groups within the vicinity of the capsized boat. Two of the girls had attempted to swim to shore. Those two were found about a mile close to shore. Once on shore, officials performed CPR on the victims, and they were taken in medical helicopter sot Salt Lake City hospitals.