1948: Jumpers to the rescue

In the summer of 1948, a woman riding in the remote, mountainous region known today as the Kalmiopsis Wilderness was seriously injured when her horse slipped off a steep embankment and rolled over her three times as they crashed down a rocky slope. When word of the accident got to Cave Junction, it was decided the quickest way to get help to her was to fly two smokejumpers from the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base and parachute them into the accident site with a stretcher to carry the woman out.

The following account was given by Bob Nolan, a long time resident of Cave Junction, and one of the two who were selected for the rescue mission.

Cave Junction and Hawks Rest
Cave Junction and Hawks Rest
At about 2 p.m., the smokejumper plane arrived over the narrow ridge where the injured woman and other members of her riding club waited. This was near a peak called Hawks Rest, about 10 miles directly west of Cave Junction. Nine members of the club, the Rough and Ready Ramblers, were on the sixth day of a backcountry ride when the accident happened.

Bob jumped from the plane and as he came down, a gust of wind unexpectedly swept him over the ridge and down a steep canyon where his parachute finally snagged the top of a tall tree about a mile below the ridge.

Bob detached himself from the parachute and climbed down his let-down rope only to find the end of the rope was more than 20 feet above the ground with a large pile of boulders beneath him. He would likely be seriously injured if he let go.

He spotted some manzanita brush on the slope at about eye level with  where he was hanging, and decided to swing and try to land in it to cushion his fall. He did a good job of calculating the distance, but his release was a little late and caused his feet to go up so he crashed into the brush flat on his back. His landing forced open the branches of the manzanita, which snapped back on his body like the jaws of a trap. It took more than a half hour before he was able to struggle free from the vise-like trap of the brush.

But once free, he headed up the steep slope and climbed nonstop to the ridge. When he arrived, the crew boss Cliff Marshall, anxious about getting the injured woman to a medical facility, told Bob to pick up one end of the stretcher, and they headed down the trail with no chance for Bob to even catch his breath.

Their destination was a road on Tennessee Mountain about eleven miles away where an ambulance would be waiting to take the woman to Grants Pass.

southwest Oregon rough country
southwest Oregon rough country
The two jumpers carried the woman over steep and rugged terrain, all the time unable to set her down on the ground because of the pain it would cause to her badly injured body. She had a broken ankle for sure, but the smokejumpers thought she may have also had a crushed hip. They were able to take turns resting by setting one end of the stretcher on a log while one stood holding the other end.

Photos from the 1948 rescue effort
Photos from the 1948 rescue effort
When they had jumped in to the site, the only thing they brought with them was a stretcher — because they were told a separate rescue party would walk in on foot with food and water. The temperatures were high, there was no water along the trail, and as it got dark, they had the added predicament of having no flashlights. Soon they were unable to see the trail in the darkness.

It was close to midnight when they saw the lights of the rescue party hiking in from Tennessee Mountain. It was estimated they had carried the woman about 8 miles over steep terrain and under the heat of the summer sun.

The rescue party arrived at the Tennessee Mountain road about midnight.
After all he had been through, Bob was still expected to get up the next day and return to retrieve his parachute and jump gear from the top of the tree — more than 11 miles of hiking in the steep canyons of the upper Chetco River watershed. Fortunately, one of the other crew members volunteered to do it for him so he could have a day to rest and get back to his job as an aerial firefighter at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base.

~ Grants Pass Daily Courier and Illinois Valley News, 17. June 1948.