Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2006-01-14
Submitted By: Glacier Country Avalanche Center; Bones
Place: Red Meadow Lake west of Polebridge
State: MT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 3 snowmobilers caught and buried by a Natural avalanche. 1 rescued, 2 killed.

***Initial Report from GCAC***

Two Avalanche Fatalities, Red Meadow Lake, Whitefish Range

16 Jan 2006 - On Saturday, January 14, 2006, three snowmobilers on foot were caught and completely buried in an avalanche at approx. 3:00 PM at Red Meadow Lake, in the Whitefish Range, north of Whitefish, Montana. One, a male, was dug out alive immediately. Another male was located, determined to be deceased, and the body left as the search continued for the third victim, a female. All victims were in their early 20's. Organized rescue/recovery was delayed until the following day because of nightfall and poor weather conditions. On Sunday the third victim was located and both bodies removed.

The avalanche was a full depth, natural release. The weather leading up to the incident was a week of heavy, dense snowfall, unseasonably warm temperatures, and often strong-blowing, westerly winds. The avalanche released upon a steep mountain overlooking the south edge of Red Meadow Lake. This particular avalanche path falls directly upon the lake and often releases small to moderate sized avalanches. The area has become a popular snowmobiling destination and in that relatively short period of experience, an avalanche the size of Saturday's release had never been observed.

Saturday's large, deadly avalanche and its accompanying air blast was carried full force onto the lake. The shock wave crushed the snow and ice surface across the entire lake and caused a tidal wave to crash onshore along its northerly edge. The greatest focus of this tsunami of water, snow, and ice was the northeasterly corner and outlet areas where the victims were standing. They were quickly overrun by a wall of snow, water, broken ice, and broken trees. Digging in the snow and icy debris on Saturday for the first victim, rescuers were finding grayling fish, a species relatively unique to this particular lake. The search for the two deceased victims was hampered by ice and woody debris. Trauma injury played a big role in this deadly avalanche.

Stan Bones, USFS-Glacier Country Avalanche Center, Flathead National Forest


Bodies of two snowmobilers recovered after avalanche

By the Associated Press

KALISPELL - The bodies of two snowmobilers were recovered Sunday, a day after they disappeared in an avalanche west of Glacier National Park.

Flathead County Undersheriff Mike Meehan confirmed the deaths of the man and woman swept up in the avalanche Saturday. He identified them as Christopher Schmalz, 21, and Danelle Bloom, 22. They were from Kalispell.

A third snowmobiler escaped the avalanche and alerted authorities, Meehan said.

The Flathead Search and Rescue and Nordic Ski Patrol searched until around dusk Saturday and resumed the search Sunday morning.

The Daily Inter Lake of Kalispell reported the man, who was equipped with a beacon intended to help locate him, was found dead Saturday but his body could not be removed immediately. The woman, who did not have a beacon, was found Sunday, according to the newspaper.

The search party consisted of about 30 people, some of them at a base camp, and several dogs.


Two missing in avalanche west of Polebridge

Posted on Jan. 15

By the Associated Press

KALISPELL - Two people are still missing after an avalanche trapped three snowmobilers near Red Meadow Lake west of Polebridge Saturday afternoon, Flathead County officials said.

Undersheriff Mike Meehan said one man was able to get out and rode his snowmobile to Polebridge, on the western edge of Glacier National Park. The avalanche happened at about 3 p.m. and the man arrived at Polebridge about an hour later.

At around 6 p.m., the Flathead Search and Rescue and Nordic Ski Patrol search had to be canceled for the night.

"It was just because of the extreme avalanche danger," Meehan said. "It was just too dangerous to go up in here tonight, so we're going to be back at first light."

A man and a woman are missing. Their names were not released.