Arden Davis, Jr. BLM Alaska Fire Service, May 11, 1966
Arden Davis, Jr.
BLM, Alaska Fire Service
Died: May 11, 1966
The following is from Smokejumper Cecil Hicks who was a friend of Arden Davis and was involved in the tragic training jump.
May 11th 1966 was the first practice jump for returning jumpers. On that day we were jumping three-man sticks from a DC-3. The jump spot was the University of Alaska Experimental Farm field near College. The field was rather square, about 20 acres with a strip of cleared land extending off the northeast corner of the field. It was probably about 100 yards wide, and it ran uphill into the trees for about a quarter mile. The jump spot was in the middle of this strip.
I was the first man out in the first stick followed by Jerry Fuller and then Arden Davis. Our spotter was Greg West, a new squadleader, who was being checked out that day by Tom Crane. We were jumping at 1,500 feet. It was a little breezy.
In looking back we were probably carried a bit too far when we jumped because all three of us ended up in the trees. Jerry and I opened fairly close to each other and immediately turned into the wind and held. We were still a few hundred feet in the air when we drifted backwards over the trees away from the jump spot. Jerry and I were talking and yelling back and forth during the jump and wondering why Arden was running with the wind. He landed quite a distance away from us. We were only about 75 feet apart from each other when we made tree landings.
Most of the trees were birch, aspen and some spruce around 30 to 35 feet tall. Usually on tree jumps in this area of Alaska you made it to the ground crashing through the branches and brush with your parachute hung over several different tree crowns. I was able to slip my canopy off the trees by pulling upon a shroud line. Jerry yelled over that he was hung up. I went over to give him a hand, but between us we were unable to slip his chute off the trees. So we gathered up our gear and headed for the jump spot to pick up some pulaskis to chop the trees down.
The rest of the planeload managed to land somewhere near the jump spot. We didn’t see Arden at this time, but figured he was having the same problem, untangling his parachute from the trees.
We picked up pulaskis and headed back for Jerry’s tree landing spot. It took us quite awhile to locate Jerry’s parachute and we had to grid through the thick trees a bit to find it. When we finally did, we chopped down the trees, untangled the mess, and returned to the jump spot.
Upon returning to the jump spot, Arden still wasn’t there. By now Tom Crane had arrived with a truck from the airport to pick up gear. He, myself, Jerry Fuller and
Neal Rylander took off at a dead run through the woods toward Arden’s parachute. We found him hanging with a shroud line caught under his helmet, his capewells popped.
Apparently while making a short letdown, he had failed to clear a shroud line [from under his chin] which caused strangulation. His feet were about two feet off the ground. Tom took out his knife and cut him down and we lowered him to the ground. Neal ran for help. Immediately other jumpers arrived and all attempts to revive him failed.
Although this accident happened some 36 years ago, it never really leaves your mind (or at least mine). I don’t talk about it much, but sometimes at night I make this fatal jump again in slow motion in my dreams and wonder all the what ifs that could have resulted with a different, happier jump story ending.
From the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Press, May 13, 1966: Davis, Jr., was born at
Sandpoint [Idaho] and was graduated from Thompson Falls [Montana] High School in 1960. He was graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in forestry last year.
The victim’s wife, Karen, and two daughters, Beckie, 5, and Jody Lynn, 3, make their home [in Coeur d’Alene]. His parents live at Thompson Falls where his father is superintendent of Pack River Lumber Co. operations in western Montana.