Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Sheep Mountain, near Bonner, MT
Summary: 5 snowmobilers caught, 4 buried and killed. ALL wearing transcievers.
Four dead in avalanche near Bonner
By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian
BONNER - Four snowmobilers were killed Saturday when they were caught in an
avalanche on Sheep Mountain, about five air miles northeast of Bonner.
The victims, all adult males, were not identified pending notification of
relatives. All were believed to be from Missoula or the surrounding area.
The four were in a party of about 10 snowmobilers, according to authorities.
All were wearing transponders - which emit a signal when buried in the snow -
when the avalanche dislodged at about noon.
"The group had transponders, shovels and avalanche probes," said Missoula
County Undersheriff Mike McMeekin. "They were well-equipped. But (avalanche
snow) can be just like concrete. You have to use the shovels to cut through
the snow. They just couldn't get to them in time."
McMeekin said there were reports that a fifth member of the group was
partially caught in the avalanche and escaped, but that had not been
confirmed. Two bodies were recovered before authorities arrived. Search and
rescue personnel from Missoula and Potomac, officers from the Missoula
Sheriff's Department and Montana Highway Patrol, plus other snowmobilers,
worked feverishly to recover the other two bodies before dark, and
authorities had not had time to piece together exactly what had happened.
The avalanche occurred in "what I understand is the fifth bowl on Sheep
Mountain," said Montana Highway Patrolman James Kitchin, who borrowed a
snowmobile to reach the site on the 7,650-foot-high mountain. Authorities
arrived at the avalanche by traveling up the Twin Creeks drainage off Highway
200 and the Blackfoot River, about 2<THORN> miles east of Johnsrud State Park.
The victims were found 5 to 12 feet below the surface, McMeekin said. Another
member of the party used a cell phone to contact 9-1-1 shortly after the
Some family members of the victims gathered at the Twin Creeks Road turnoff,
then moved a couple hundred yards up the road and out of view until the
bodies were brought out, at about 5:15 p.m.
Only one of the snowmobiles was recovered Saturday, according to Kitchin.
A high avalanche danger warning had been issued by the U.S. Forest Service
for the area because of recent heavy, wet snow.
Updated reports on avalanche conditions are available by calling 549-4488, or
1-800-281-1030, or at the West Central Montana Avalanche Center Web site,
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or firstname.lastname@example.org.