Another article has appeared about the life of Earl Cooley, one of the first smokejumpers, who died on November 9 at the age of 98. This one is in, surprisingly, The Economist, a British publication. Here is how it begins:
SEEN from the height of a passenger jet, the mountains of Idaho and western Montana look like the grey, wrinkled hide of a dinosaur. Closer up, from a twin-engine aircraft, those wrinkles become thousands of conifers marching over the steep and broken ground. Closer still—“My God! My chute’s not opening! Something’s wrong!”—that’s a spruce you’re plunging into, your tardy parachute lines tangling round your neck and your flailing legs kicking off branches a hundred feet above the ground. Luckily, you’re alive. Luckier still, you have a rope in your trouser pocket that lets you rappel down from the tree. And you haven’t even got to the fire yet.
Such was Earl Cooley’s introduction, on July 12th 1940 when he was 28, to the completely new science of smokejumping. After years spent trying to douse the forest fires of America’s West from aircraft—labouring skywards with water stowed in five-gallon cans and beer barrels—this was the first attempt to parachute firefighters to blazes too remote to reach by road. In the 22 years Mr Cooley was to spend doing it, it was also his closest call. He reflected later that if the spruce had not saved him, the smokejumping programme itself would not have survived—let alone become the success it is today, with 1,432 jumps made for the Forest Service last year. Back then, too many people thought it crazy. One Montana regional forester, a big-shot called Evan Kelly, had already complained to Washington that it was a waste of “honest suppression money”—dollars spent putting out fires in the old, plodding, non-flamboyant way.
The rest of the article is HERE.