By Keith Ridler Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho — A Bureau of Land Management smokejumper has died in a parachuting accident while training, officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said.
Authorities say 40-year-old Mark T. Urban of Boise died Friday afternoon about 45 miles east of Boise when something went wrong with the deployment of his parachute.
BLM spokesman Ken Frederick said Urban was pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic who arrived by helicopter.
“There was a parachute malfunction at some time, or the parachute failed to do something,” Frederick said. “We can’t speculate at this time. We’ll have to wait for the investigation.”
He said Saturday a team that includes other smokejumpers is being assembled to find out what went wrong. Smokejumpers are firefighters who parachute into remote areas to fight wildfires.
Urban on Friday was taking part in proficiency training. Smokejumpers are required to parachute at least once every two weeks during the fire season to keep in practice.
Frederick said Urban was the second smokejumper out of the airplane, but it’s unclear how many smokejumpers were taking part or if more than two smokejumpers parachuted.
He said the landing area was a mix of conifer trees, open meadows and brush fields — similar to what they would expect on a wildfire.
Urban was one of about 75 smokejumpers at the Great Basin Smokejumper Base in Boise, which is one of two BLM smokejumper bases. The other is in Fairbanks, Alaska. There are about 150 BLM smokejumpers in all. The U.S. Forest Service also has smokejumpers, about 300 at seven bases.
Frederick said Urban had been a smokejumper for 10 years, had hundreds of jumps that included training and on wildfires, and helped train other smokejumpers. He’s survived by his wife, Rebecca, and parents.
“It’s really tough for us,” said Frederick. “It was a tough day yesterday and it’s going to be a tough day today.”
He said smokejumpers in Boise held a meeting Saturday morning to deal with the loss.