Candidates for smokejumping are today required to pass rigorous physical examinations and undergo years of training. But when, on July 12 1940, Earl Cooley stood ready to jump from a small TriMotor aeroplane as it buzzed at 1,500ft over Martin Creek in the Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho, procedures were altogether more improvised. "Our training consisted of a man saying: 'This is your parachute. You know what fire is. We jump tomorrow'," he recalled later.
Such rudimentary preparation seemed to invite disaster – and it duly arrived, as the lines of Cooley's parachute got tangled and it failed to open properly. His fall was, however, cushioned by the upper branches of a spruce tree and he – and the art of smokejumping – survived. Dusting himself down, he and his partner, Rufus Robinson, located the equipment and provisions that had been dropped in their wake, and made their way to the fire. Over the next 12 hours they successfully put it out.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Earl Cooley - Veteran Smokejumper RIP