Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-01-26
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Sheep Mountain, near Bonner, MT
State: MT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 4
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

avalanche.

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,

www.avalanche.org.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or vdevlin@missoulian.com.