Last Friday afternoon David Berkoff was driving north with his son on Van Buren Street after a day of skiing when a plume of snow enveloped his Toyota Cruiser.
"All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I just see something coming at us and it looked like a wall of light," Berkoff says. "Then I felt debris and wood hitting the car and I thought, 'My God, what is this?'"
At first the Missoula attorney believed the commotion was caused by an out-of-control snowplow and worried for his 14-year-old son in the passenger seat. "I was envisioning a snowplow blade coming through our passenger side door," he says.
But when Berkoff got out and examined his SUV, it looked like somebody took a crowbar to it. His windshield was cracked and a side mirror missing. There was no plow. There was only yelling.
"I heard a woman screaming, 'My son, my son! He's been buried! He was in the backyard! He's gone!'" Berkoff recalls.
What happened next has been the subject of national and international news stories, from CBS to the BBC. Berkoff and his son weathered the tail end of an avalanche that barreled down Mt. Jumbo at an estimated 120 miles per hour. It buried three people and pushed a Rattlesnake neighborhood home 50 feet off its foundation. Members of the community rushed to the scene in an incredible display of bravery and support.
Berkoff says he hailed down motorists, asking them to aid in the search. Tarn Ream, a neighbor who was one of the first to arrive, says there were so many avalanche probes in the debris that it looked like a porcupine.
"Within five minutes, there were 50 people on the scene," Berkoff says. "I can't believe how many people were on site so quickly."
Volunteers first found 8-year-old Phoenix Scholes-Coburn, who had been playing in a nearby backyard, alive in the wreckage. Hours later they found retired UM professor Fred Allendorf and his wife, Michel Colville, owners of the demolished home, also alive. NBC News referred to the ordeal and its unlikely outcome as the "Miracle in Montana."
On Monday, however, officials announced Colville had died. Allendorf and Scholes-Coburn are still recuperating. Snowboarders on Mt. Jumbo at the time of the slide have been questioned and face potential charges.
While there's still a lot to sort through with this tragedyliterally, in the case of Allendorf's still-buried possessionsmany are at least taking solace in the community's remarkable response. "You were glad you were there to help," Berkoff says, "and that's all you can say about it."