Smokejumper hangs up in tree, falls during let down procedure

Suffered a serious back injury. Report is available.

Lily Fire smokejumper injury

On the Lily Lake Fire August 17, 2020 on the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, a first-year smokejumper performing a letdown procedure from a tree fell and suffered a broken vertebrae. The patient was treated on scene by U.S. Forest Service EMTs then transported to a hospital via air ambulance. Surgery three days later was successful and a full recovery is expected after rehabilitation.

Below are excerpts from the facilitated learning analysis. It begins after exiting the airplane and before landing.


Once on final [approach] he recognized that he was a little downwind from where the other jumpers had set up.

When he realized he wasn’t going to make the jump spot and no alternates were available, he looked around for a healthy tree and selected a tall green western hemlock to land in. He aimed for it, snagging his parachute in limbs approximately 40 feet above the ground. As he came to rest he quickly shifted into the muscle memory he developed during rookie training that spring, calming the initial nerves he felt.

Initiating the letdown procedure, he called out to his jump partner, “JP, am I hung up well?”

Lily Fire smokejumper injuryBut his jump partner, still making his way to the tree having just landed himself, was not yet close enough to hear or respond. Now that he was treed up, the tree didn’t seem to be as good as he thought. Entangled about midway up the 100 foot tree on the edge of the branches, he was just out of arm’s reach from the bole. He seemed to be fairly level with most of the tension on his left riser. There weren’t many branches around him, and those that were nearby were short and sloped downward. Continuing the letdown procedure, he chose to drop the drogue release handle instead of placing it in his pocket, in order to avoid excess movement.

Three jumpers from the previous load heard over the radio someone was treed up as they continued hiking to the fire. The jump ship maintained orbit, waiting for the jumper to get on the ground before throwing cargo. One of his rookie trainers saw him hung up and ran over to help him through the letdown procedure.

Lily Fire smokejumper injuryHe wasn’t far along in the process when she reached his tree. “Am I treed up well?” he asked.

Looking up at the suspended jumper the rookie trainer didn’t think he was and told him so, encouraging him to continue and limiting her input to only what was needed to expedite the process. As the jumper continued through the steps small branches rained down. Throughout his training he had demonstrated great proficiency in the letdown process both on the units* and during a training jump where he treed up. He felt less stress now than he had during the training jump. His rookie trainer listened as he advanced through his five point check “perfectly correct.”

He slowly released his right side riser and felt little movement. As he suspected, his left riser was holding his weight. Suddenly he had “a bad feeling” and said as much to the jumper on the ground. He then began to release his tight left riser. He had to jerk slightly on the riser to initiate the 3 ring release. As it released and he began to weight the letdown tape he heard a crack and began to drop. He bounced back up slightly “like a spring” before feeling a snap and falling 30 feet.

Continue reading “Smokejumper hangs up in tree, falls during let down procedure”

Tanker 60 retires from aerial firefighting

air tanker 60 DC-7B retires
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, retires from firefighting. Photo by Tim Crippin October 14, 2020.

Last week Air Tanker 60, a DC-7B (N838D), completed its last season as an aerial firefighting machine. On October 14 it departed from Medford, Oregon when the contract with the state of Oregon ended. Tim Crippen, who took these photos as it left, said it gave a wing wave to the tanker base as it passed by en route to Madras, Oregon.

air tanker 60 DC-7B retires
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, retires from firefighting. Photo by Tim Crippin October 14, 2020.

The aircraft, serial number 45347, was manufactured in 1958. It is powered by four 18-cylinder Wright TC18EA radial engines, each weighing 3,700 pounds with a displacement of 3,350 cubic inches. A lot of people will miss the sound of those huge engines over a fire.

Wright Cyclone GR 3350 radial engine
A Wright Cyclone GR 3350 radial engine, similar to the ones on Tanker 60.
air tanker 60 DC-7B retires
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, retires from firefighting. Photo by Tim Crippin October 14, 2020.

Excellent video of DC-10 dropping through smoke

DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire
DC-10 dropping on the Almeda Fire, September 8, 2020. Screenshot from the Loren Julien video.

Update September 18, 2020:  The video was shot during the Almeda Fire in Southern Oregon September 8, 2020 by Loren Julien. It was just after he put sprinklers on his sister Annette Julien’s house and left the area —  the house seen with the wet roof. Ms. Julien told me her house did not survive.

Photos of air tankers attacking fire one mile from air tanker base

Tanker 103 drops fire Medford Oregon
Tanker 103, (an MD-87, N293EA) drops on a fire west of the Medford, OR airport Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin shot these photos of two air tankers dropping on a fire that had just broken out one mile west of the air tanker base at the Rogue Valley International Airport (MFR) at Medford, Oregon. Here is what he wrote:

I took these pictures of Tankers 103 and 910 dropping retardant on a fast moving brush fire that was racing up the Bear Creek Greenway near I-5 between North Medford and Central Point, OR yesterday (9-9-2020). This fire threatened multiple businesses and structures including a FedEx building and Costco. The city of Central Point was on a Level 3 evacuation shortly after it started due to the rapid spread of the fire.

The fire was only about 1 mile west of the Medford Airport and the tankers and helicopters that were working on the South Obenchain Fire were diverted to this fire. They had 3 air tankers do drops and they were Tankers 60 (missed their drop), Tanker 103 and Tanker 910. Along with multiple helicopters.

I took these pictures near Million Air at the Medford Airport.

The South Obenchain Fire has burned about 12,000 acres 12 miles northeast of the airport.

Tanker 910 drops fire Medford Oregon
Tanker 910, (a DC-10, N612AX) drops on a fire west of the Medford, OR airport Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Tanker 910 drops fire Medford Oregon
Tanker 910, (a DC-10, N612AX) drops on a fire west of the Medford, OR airport Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Pilot identified in Oregon helicopter accident

The helicopter was a Kaman Aerospace K1200, better known as a K-MAX

K-MAX Salmon Idaho
K-MAX helicopter (N314) at Salmon, ID July 28, 2016. It was working on the Comet fire north of the city. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The pilot killed in the August 24 helicopter crash has been identified as Tom Duffy, 40. The information was released by a publication of the Seventh-day Adventist church, which said he was a lay leader. A news release by the U.S. Forest Service said the accident occurred during a water bucket mission on the White River Fire in Oregon.

The FAA reported the helicopter was N314, SN A94-0032, a Kaman Aerospace K1200, better known as a K-MAX. It is registered to Central Copters out of Bozeman Montana. The company operates several K-MAX ships with the distinctive red and black livery.

The FAA confirmed the crash occurred during firefighting bucket operations.

The White River Fire has burned 1,350 acres 11 miles southeast of Mt. Hood since it started from a lightning strike August 17.

A K-MAX can carry up to about 700 gallons and is rated as a Type 1 helicopter by the Forest Service.

I took these photos of the helicopter while on a motorcycle trip in 2016.

A K-MAX helicopter (N314) drops water on the Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Pilot killed in helicopter accident while battling Oregon fire

August 25, 2020 | 4:07 a.m. PDT

White River Fire August 24, 2020 Oregon helicopter accident
White River Fire August 24, 2020

The pilot of a helicopter was killed August 24 while assisting firefighters on the White River Fire in Oregon. According to the U.S. Forest Service the K-MAX helicopter was dropping water in rough terrain when the accident occurred.

Wasco County Sheriff’s Office and Forest Service air and ground resources responded immediately to the site. There will be an investigation into the accident, and the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have been notified. The firefighter has not yet been identified.

The White River Fire has burned 1,102 acres of timber and light logging slash 11 miles southeast of Mt. Hood since it started from a lightning strike August 17. It is being suppressed by 304 personnel and a Type 2 incident management team led by Incident Commander Brian Goff.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the pilot.

White River Fire August pilot helicopter killed crash accident
White River Fire August 18, 2020. InciWeb.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jeff.

Three helicopters help suppress fire that spread into auto wrecking yard near Bend, Oregon

August 16, 2020 | 1:29 p.m. PDT

Helicopter 3AC drops on the Juniper Fire
Helicopter 3AC drops on the Juniper Fire August 15, 2020. Note the shadow of the helicopter on the thick smoke. Screenshot from KTVZ video.

A vegetation fire that spread into an auto wrecking yard Saturday was attacked by firefighters on the ground and at least five aircraft. Hundreds of homes were threatened including a mobile home park next door.

Footage from KTVZ showed numerous water drops by an Air-Crane, Helicopter 3AC. At least two Single Engine Air Tankers also worked the fire, as well as two other helicopters, an S61 and a third that may have been a Bell 205, said Brendan O’Reilly, Superintendent of the Prineville Hotshots who was on scene.

Juniper Fire Bend Oregon junkyard
An S-61 helicopter drops water on the Juniper Ridge Fire, August 15, 2020. Photo by Brendan O’Reilly.

Numerous vehicles were on fire in the wrecking yard producing a thick column of black smoke.

“Maybe 25 acres [were burning] in the wildland around several structures, and then about 10 acres in the junkyard although due to the thick toxic smoke and exploding airbags and tires, we couldn’t accurately map the whole perimeter on the ground,” Superintendent O’Reilly said. “I’d never personally seen helicopters used on a junkyard fire. The helicopters were much more effective than SEATs due to the thick black smoke column, but still couldn’t do much except limit spread to adjacent structures. It took structure engines with SCBAs to make any headway in the junkyard itself, but that was after hours of tires and airbags exploding. It was a very interesting evening.”

Juniper Ridge Fire, August 15, 2020 by Brendan O’Reilly.

“Due to the air attack resources we were able to make an aggressive stop on the fire,” said Trish Connolly, Battalion Chief for Bend County Fire Department. “Today we know that we lost two outbuildings and [and there was] damage to a commercial building.”

Evacuations were in effect while the fire was spreading but were lifted late in the day.

Early reports say the fire started east of the railroad that is just east of the wrecking yard.

Juniper Fire junkyard bend oregon
File photo of the Juniper Fire area, July 27, 2018. Google Earth.

The video below shows several drops by the Air-Crane helicopter, 3AC.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brendan.

Photos of air tankers and a lead plane working out of Redmond, OR

August 6, 2020 | 7:50 p.m. PDT

Tanker 60, a DC-7B
Tanker 60, a DC-7B, arriving at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.

Cooper Palubeski sent us photos he took August 3 of firefighting aircraft at Redmond, Oregon. Thanks Cooper!

The tankers were reloading retardant while battling the Fir Mountain Fire south of Hood River, Oregon. Tankers 101 and 163 were dispatched from Redmond, Oregon just after 11:00 a.m. and made four load and returns at the airport.

They got more help around 12:30 p.m. when Tanker 60 arrived from Medford, making several runs on the Fir Mountain Fire before returning to Medford that night.

Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC)
Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC), at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020 landing after its first sortie that day. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA)
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), taking off with its second load of retardant at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA)
Tanker 101, an MD-87 (N291EA), taking off with its second load of retardant at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.
Lead Plane, Beechcraft Super King Air B200GT (N24HD)
A U.S. Forest Service Lead Plane, Beechcraft Super King Air B200GT (N24HD), at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. Photo by Cooper Palubeski, who said the aircraft was over the Fir Mountain Fire for nearly 4.5 hours.
Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC)
Tanker 163, an RJ85 (N366AC), at Redmond, OR August 3, 2020. It was taking off for the first time that day from Redmond. Photo by Cooper Palubeski.