Montana Avalanche That Trapped 3 May Have Been Started by Snowboarder

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 03:51 PM

By Angela Deines

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A snowboarder is believed to have caused an avalanche in Montana on Friday that trapped three people, including an 8-year-old boy.

U.S. Forest Service officials say the area near Mount Jumbo outside of Missoula, Mont., was closed to recreational use, but the snowboarder may have set off the massive avalanche that buried a house, trapping an elderly couple and the boy in a neighboring yard. However, Missoula police say the incident remains under investigation to determine whether any laws were broken.

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Dozens of emergency responders and neighbors used rescue equipment and shovels to find Fred Allendorf, 66, and Michel Colville, 68, and the boy, Phoenix Scoles-Coburn, who were taken to a local hospital. Air pockets caused by debris when the couple’s house was demolished are said to have helped the couple stay alive, according to the Missoulian.

The boy was found pinned next to a fence about an hour after the search began Friday afternoon.

The snow from an avalanche immediately hardens, making it difficult to break through. The avalanche, believed to be traveling at 120 miles per hour, slammed into the neighborhood near downtown Missoula and the University of Montana.

“All it was waiting for was a trigger, and we got that with the snowboarder,” Steve Karkanen, director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center, told the Missoulian. “He was on a slab probably 2 or 3 feet deep. It collapsed with a whoomp and he started to go for a ride. He got caught in it for a while, but got free.”

“We heard this huge whump,” neighbor Cheryl McMillan also told The Missoulian. “At first we thought it was just snow falling off the roof. But it was also more like a roar. It didn’t last very long.”

Allendorf was in serious condition on Saturday while Colville was in critical condition. Scoles-Coburn was reported to have been fair condition.

As of Monday, Missoula city officials were warning of a potential second avalanche near Mount Jumbo. Volunteers who had been helping to recover people’s belongings near the site of Friday’s avalanche have been told to evacuate the area.

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