An avalanche that swept down Mount Jumbo shortly after 4 p.m. Friday demolished a two-story house in the lower Rattlesnake Valley and buried three people, all of whom were pulled from the snow and wreckage alive.

Snowboarders who were on the slope above the slide were reportedly interviewed and released by law enforcement officers. It was not disclosed if they’re believed to have caused the avalanche, which roared down a steep, narrow gorge and down Holly Street before finally stopping in the middle of Van Buren Street.

Rescuers found and extricated an 8-year-old boy from the deep snow after more than an hour’s frantic search by some 50 emergency responders with avalanche probes and shovel-wielding volunteers.

The boy had apparently been playing outside a home at the southeast corner of Van Buren and Holly when the slide struck. He was found buried under snow between the house and a high wooden fence roughly 10 feet away.

A smattering of applause broke out as the boy was carried by stretcher to an ambulance. He was admitted to St. Patrick Hospital.

An hour later, as frigid daylong winds and swirling snow continued to buffet the valley, an elderly man was located and rescued from the remains of the house at 1440 Harrison St., a north-south street that runs parallel to Van Buren at the western foot of Jumbo.

He was responsive and appeared to have no broken bones, according to a rescuer who said a fallen chimney had created an air pocket roughly 5 feet by 2 feet that saved the man from suffocation. Neighbors identified him as Fred Allendorf, a retired University of Montana professor who taught genetics and conservation biology.

Night fell and portable floodlights were trucked in to illuminate the search site as a trained avalanche crew shoveled through the wreckage. Another hour passed and a woman was pulled from the ruins of the house. She lay in what a law enforcement officer on the scene said was a similar air hole. Incredibly, she too was breathing.

The woman was en route to the hospital at 7:20 p.m., more than three hours after the slide.

Neither Allendorf’s condition nor that of the rescued woman, his wife Michel Colville, were released Friday night. A neighbor said the two-story home had been recently remodeled.


Jay Vigneault lives in the apartment next door.

“We were sitting there watching ‘Thor’ and all of a sudden we hear a rumbling,” a shaken Vigneault said as he watched the rescue efforts from the middle of Van Buren, where the avalanche finally came to rest. “I thought, ‘Oh, they’re bringing the plows up here.’ But that’s not a plow when the whole house shakes.”

“We’ve got snow in our back closet, so we’re extremely lucky,” Vigneault added.

Cheryl McMillan, who lives on Harrison Street a couple of houses down from the Allendorf home, said she heard a boom but at first couldn’t identify its source.

“Then, when we looked again, we saw that their whole house was kind of no longer there, at least the top floor,” McMillan said.

She and her husband, Archie McMillan, have lived in the neighborhood for 31 years, and they never have seen an avalanche. “Never ever ever ever.”

Kelly Haroldson has a laundry in a cluster of three houses across Holly Street, just north of the demolished home.

“I felt the boom and the rattle. It took out the gas furnace, so we have gas leaks,” she said.

A strong odor of gas permeated the area throughout the rescue efforts. The avalanche nearly took out a power pole with a transformer, which wound up propped in a tree to the west.

NorthWestern Energy crews worked to find a gas main under Van Buren and to disconnect electricity in the near vicinity. The whipping wind and increasing cold made the evening uncomfortable for rescuers, onlookers, search and rescue crews, city firemen and police and sheriff’s department officers. Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen helped directed traffic near the scene on Van Buren.

Rescuers threw boards and tree debris into a huge pile during their searches.


Late Friday night, the threat of further slides in one of Missoula’s snowiest winters in memory prompted Missoula police and sheriff’s department officers as well as fire personnel to go door to door in the lower Rattlesnake neighborhood between Richard and Holly streets.

They told residents of extremely unstable snow conditions and informed them of the risk of further avalanches.

“Although there is not a mandatory evacuation order in place, residents are encouraged to consider the risk when deciding whether or not to leave the area,” said Missoula Police Sgt. Travis Welsh.

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office issued an avalanche advisory for the city’s foothills, including Mount Jumbo, Mount Sentinel, Waterworks Hill and other terrain north of Missoula.

“Recent heavy snow load and high winds are complicating the situation,” the advisory stated. “Any open snow-covered terrain that is steeper than 30 degrees is potentially hazardous.”

Recreation in those areas is also highly discouraged. The south zone of Mount Jumbo, including the slide area, is in the midst of its annual closure that began Dec. 1 and ends March 15.

Welsh said it was believed that all humans affected by the avalanche were accounted for, but personnel remained in the area into the night to monitor conditions and make sure there were no others missing.

The Red Cross established a shelter for any residents who may be displaced at Missoula’s First Baptist Church, 308 W. Pine St. Pruyn Veterinary Hospital, 2501 S. Russell St., offered to take in 10 to 15 cats and 10 to 15 dogs – more if needed – while their humans stay at the shelter.


On Jan. 9, 1993, an avalanche on the east side of Mount Jumbo carried an East Missoula boy to his death while he was hiking with three friends on the steep hillside.

Two of the other three boys were buried in the snow, but were rescued by the fourth youth, Matt Tripp.

Killed was 13-year-old Pershing Clarence “Percy” Phillips III. He was a student at Rattlesnake School.

In that case, the avalanche occurred on an afternoon when the temperature was near zero and winds were gusting between 30 and 50 mph. A snow cornice above where the boys were hiking broke loose and swept down the mountain in a swath about a quarter-mile long.

​Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at or at (406) 523-5240

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(23) comments

Dick Summers

The seasonal Jumbo closure needs to include all of Jumbo, including the L trail. I see people up there all the time during the closure dates. Heavy fines need to be dished out. I hope the city has the common sense to realize the opening date of March 15th needs to be pushed back *at least* a month this year.. tough year for deer and Elk. start telling the public early instead of waiting till March 14th. In other cities, deer and elk routinely set off avalanches that sweep cars off of roads. Woods Gulch should be included in the closure as well, although that brings a different ownership into the mix.
And then the guy who built up above the saddle.... no comment.


Avalanche Creek

1. I agree with Beenthere that the photo of the mother was inappropriate. I have know victims of tragedies that have been double wounded by the media. I don't think the benefit to the public of showing this personal tragedy photo out weighs the negative invasion.
2. The snowboarders should be fined and names made public if they were above the avalance area in an off-limit zone. The photo of them could benefit the public. They were probably the third leg of the avalanche formula...35-50 degree slope with few stabilizing trees, unstable snow with wind, and a TRIGGER..I don't know the exact formula but it's close to this. The snowboarders should be required to attend avalanche awareness classes
3. All schools should teach avalanche awareness. I observed a training just last week in a school and realize how valuable it is to people.


I disagree. The photo captures everything this scene was. Please note that it wasn't published till word was out the boy had been found and was alive. Hopefully he and the couple will recover fully. A heart wrenching photograph for sure but that's what this scene was at the time.


I applaud the people of Missoula for coming together, Montana is the only place I would ever want to call home. My heart goes out to the victims and their family, may God bless you all.
Shame on you Tom Bauer for taking a picture of the Mother of the young boy caught in the avalanche! That family has all ready been through hell, so why post such a private moment for the world to see?
People like you only think about the story, what will draw viewers instead of having tact and grace. (When my brother died years ago in Flathead lake I remember reporters from the Missouulian coming on our private property trying to get footage of my parents reaction to our tragedy!)


I respectfully disagree about the photo. It captures the chaos, the support given to the mother and the swarm of people there to help. I know emotion is difficult to see, but that was the reality. News can be uncomfortable.
Today, I'm hoping for a fast and full recovery for everyone. I hope we can all get through this storm without further injury. I'm very proud of Missoula.


And I respectfully agree with Tracker. Very emotional and powerful news photo. I know many would like to whitewash the news, but think of the greatest news photos of all time, such as the fireman carrying a child after the Oklahoma City bombing. Some would rather everything was flowers and sunshine and bunnies.


I agree that it was unnecessary to publish the photo of the poor mother. This was probably the worst moment of her entire life, published in a small town newspaper for everyone to see. It's upsetting.


What an amazing response by first-responders, neighbors and everyone else who helped at the scene of the avalanche. Prayers go out to the young boy, Dr. Allendorf and his wife in their recoveries. Kudos also to reporter Kim Briggeman and photog Tom Bauer for their exceptional reporting on this story.


Snowboarders above the slide area, which is supposed to be closed between Dec 1st and March 15th. Hmmmmm.... Good going DUDES!


We'll see where this fact goes. I don't believe in coincidences.


Strong work!! Thank you to all involved with the rescue.


Thank goodness the three were pulled from the wreckage. Hopefully all three will recover & we can learn from this experience. Special thanks to all of the good people of Missoula who helped out.

Avalanche Creek

Thankfully the victims have been recovered. My prayers go out to the them and their families. Our fire and police department folks and others pitched in and worked hard. I saw the call for help on the news and showed up with a shovel to help out where I could, which turned out to be scraping away snow and ice from the street to try to locate a gas shut off valve in a 400 square foot area. Until the locater and some guy with a gas line map showed up it was scattered search. Once they did show up, it still took quite a while to locate the probable valve spot. They had trouble reading the map. The valve appeared to be buried UNDER asphalt and a fireman had to chip away at asphalt to get to it. I left before I could see the outcome but I was amazed that a gas shut off valve could be paved over. We all should be concerned about paved over and unmarked gas valves. I look forward to reading the report of what happened, and what our city personnel will do to fix the flaws in the system.
Thanks to all the rescue people and volunteers. It's comforting to know you are there.


A big super super SHOUT OUT to all the responders, neighbors, police officers, and anyone else who chipped in a helping hand! My hat is off to you folks. I am so relieved to hear everyone is ok.

Being an avid snowmobiler, the risk of avalanches are always there. You can only hope and pray that those with you, and those in the area, know how to assist in these circumstances.

Godspeed to the survivors, and all those involved! :-)

Stan Reck
Stan Reck

Glad everyone is ok!

Dang that global warming!


Not certain if everyone is "ok" just yet. What a stupid comment regardless of what your position on global warming is.


Yeah - every time there's a hurricane, the climate alarmists blame it on global warming - although the number of hurricanes that reach land have decreased, compared to the period before 1970.

Andy B Hamond
Andy B Hamond

This is basic grade 5 education, Rodger and Stan.

Warmer atmosphere means the ability to hold more moisture. More moisture means more rain, more snow and more weather extremes. Understand?

I didn't think so, but it is a fact anyway. Your inability to understand it does not change the fact.


give it up, I doubt anyone is interested in your rant. No one really cares what you think


What an amazing show of help from Missoulians.... A tragic event but hopefully everyone is ok.

geoffy joe bob

So proud of our community way to go Missoulians


Are there enough volunteers? I wouldn't want to cause issues by crowding the scene with too many people (it sounds like there are a lot of them), but it would be nice to know if they'd like more manpower... hopefully someone will see this.


Hopes are the boy is okay. Hopefully through the confusion he was just not found yet and escaped the avalanche. Wish I was back in Missoula to help!

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