BLM smokejumper died because parachute malfunctioned

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) -- A smokejumper died during a training exercise at Fort Wainwright because his parachute malfunctioned, the Bureau of Land Management said Friday.

David Liston, 28, of Girdwood, fell to his death during a training exercise on April 29. A second smokejumper's main parachute failed during that same exercise, but he successfully deployed his backup chute and landed without injury.

Investigators determined that there were a series of parachute malfunctions that resulted in Liston's parachutes becoming entangled. The parachute was properly packed and the rigging, harness and other equipment was not at fault.

''Liston's main parachute did not properly deploy because the main drogue did not release at the correct time in the deployment sequence,'' the BLM report states. ''Liston's reserve parachute did not properly deploy because the reserve pilot chute bridle was entangled with the drogue bridle.''

A drogue is a smaller parachute used to stabilize the jumper. It pulls out the main parachute when released by the jumper. A bridle is a line that attaches the reserve chute to the main parachute.

The BLM grounded its smokejumpers in April following the accident. It will continue the moratorium until safety concerns can be resolved, said Larry Hamilton, the agency's national director of fire and aviation.

The moratorium affects 130 BLM smokejumpers in Fairbanks and Boise, Idaho. It will not affect about 300 smokejumpers working for the National Forest Service because they use a round, military-style parachute.

Thirty Forest Service smokejumpers have been brought to Alaska to compensate for the grounding of the BLM jumpers, Williams said. Alaska also has contracted for three additional helicopters and is relying more on air attacks.

BLM began testing its parachutes in December 1979. Since then, there have been about 30,000 jumps and 29 have resulted in reserve chute deployment, said Andy Williams, a spokesman for the Alaska Fire Service in Fairbanks.

''It has been a very safe system up to this point,'' he said.

Investigators have made 13 recommendations, including a thorough review of the parachute's design. Attention also will be paid to a 3-ring assembly that when wet or frozen may be hard to pull, causing trouble deploying the main chute, Williams said.

Three smokejumpers have died in parachute-related accidents.

A Forest Service smokejumper was strangled in Redding, Calif., in 1960 when a line wrapped around his neck. A BLM smokejumper was strangled in 1966 in Fairbanks when his chute became entangled in trees. And in 1991, a Forest Service smokejumper testing a BLM chute died in Missoula, Mont., when his main chute didn't deploy because he failed to pull a release handle.

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us