Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2009-01-17
Submitted By: GNFAC, Chabot
Place: Hell Roaring drainage South of Mt Jefferson
State: MT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed


Centennial Mountains, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

17 January 2009

This accident synopsis was gathered from a Seattle Post Intelligencer article and a detailed interview with a rescuer, Sean. The article can be found here:

On Saturday, January 17th, 2009, 21 y.o. snowmobiler Joshua Jenkins from Idaho Falls, ID was killed in an avalanche while highmarking in the Hell Roaring drainage south of Mt Jefferson, MT. His partners were not watching him at the time and no one had shovels or probes. The rider was a 21 y.o. male from Idaho Falls. His head was buried 6-7 feet deep and was dug out in 20 minutes using a beacon to locate him.

Sean was not a member of the party that triggered the avalanche. He was out riding with his father and friends. His father stopped him and said he had just seen an avalanche release on Mt. Jefferson. They both could see the crown. They rode to the site and estimated the slide was 1000’ long, 50 feet wide and had debris 14-20’ deep. It took Sean 8 minutes from the time they saw the slide until they arrived on scene.

There were 4-5 people already on the debris walking around. Sean did not notice any sense of urgency and thought that perhaps they were only looking for a buried sled. One of them yelled to Sean that they needed a probe. The folks on the debris were walking in a tight 5-10 foot circle when someone yelled ‘I found him!” It was obvious to Sean that they were looking for someone, and a rescuer had not turned off his beacon creating confusion. No one on the scene had taken charge and it showed.

Sean was responsible for half the rescue gear on the hill at that time. He had 1 of the 2 probes and 1 of the 2 shovels. The group was completely unprepared and showed no signs of training.

Sean told them to shut off their beacons because they were following one another. Once this was done they were able to locate the sled but unable to pin point Joshua. Unwilling to wait Sean turned his beacon to “receive” and quickly pinpointed Joshua. Digging as fast as they could they found him underneath the sled. It took 6 to 7 people to lift sled out. They then dug down and pulled Joshua out, but CPR was too late.

By the end of the rescue about 15 people were on scene helping out. Although he was found within 20 minutes, a deep burial is hard to survive.

From Sean’s email about the avalanche conditions:

“That morning my dad and the others in my group thought that the prevailing snow conditions were safe and not going to produce an avalanche. I knew it was capable and that the slide would be large and destructive if released (thanks to several avalanche center recordings). Looking back I would not have thought that it would have been the slope to slide. It is a south west facing slope that receives a lot of sun throughout the day. It is not a wind loaded slope and it had a thinner snow pack. This taught me that no matter what the conditions are any slope can slide.”

Sean took two of our 2-day Avalanche Awareness for Snowmobilers courses one in 2005 and the other in 2006. Mt Jefferson is located about 30 miles west of West Yellowstone, MT and is not in our advisory area.

Report compiled by:

Doug Chabot

Director, Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center