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Incident Name:  annual smokejumper recertification
Date: 4/29/2000
Personnel: David Liston
Age: 28
Agency/Organization: Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service
Position: smokejumper

Summary: Smokejumper David Liston was participating in mandatory annual recertification practice parachute jumps in preparation for the upcoming wildland season. He had completed three jumps. During the fourth jump of the day, Smokejumper Liston's parachute failed to open, and he plunged 3,000 feet to his death. Emergency medical care was provided immediately by other smokejumpers trained as emergency medical technicians to no avail. David Liston's cause of death was listed as multiple impact (deceleration) injuries.


David Liston Plaque David Liston Plaque
David Liston Plaque David Liston Plaque

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Duty Station: Fort Wainwright, Alaska


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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Official BLM Press Release: Smokejumper Identified in Fatal Accident

    FORT WAINWRIGHT -- The Alaska Smokejumper who died after a parachuting accident here Saturday was identified as David J. Liston, 28.

    Liston, a smokejumper with the BLM Alaska Fire Service since 1998, was making a practice jump to prepare for the fire season when his parachute failed to open. He was treated at the scene by fellow smokejumpers trained as emergency medical technicians and taken by ambulance to Bassett Army Hospital. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

    A national serious accident investigation team is en route to AFS facilities at Fort Wainwright Sunday to conduct an investigation. Further information about the accident was unavailable pending arrival of the team.

    Liston, a resident of Girdwood and Rainbow Valley during the winter, was originally from Oregon. He first came to work with the Alaska Fire Service in 1995 as a member of the Midnight Sun Hot Shot Crew. He worked with the Midnight Suns in 1995 and 1996, and was a squad boss with the North Star Fire Crew in 1997. He rookied with the Alaska Smokejumpers in 1998.

    His wife, Kristin, also works with AFS. His mother and stepfather live in Gladstone, Ore., and his father and stepmother live in Bend, Ore.

    "Wildland firefighters are a close-knit community, and we are saddened by David's death," said AFS Manager Scott Billing. "We have temporarily suspended all parachute operations while the investigation is underway."

  • Summary Information from the Investigation:

    All smokejumping activities in Alaska and Idaho were halted for over 2 months as this incident was investigated.

    The investigation revealed that the parachute malfunction was characterized as a "drogue in tow" meaning that the drogue chute deployed but did not release on demand in order to deploy Smokejumper Liston’s main parachute. Smokejumper Liston then followed emergency procedures and manually deployed his reserve parachute. During this action, the reserve pilot chute became entangled with the drogue bridle (the line which attaches the drogue to the main parachute) thereby preventing both the main and reserve canopies from deploying.

    Smokejumper Liston was the first parachute-related fatality for the Bureau of Land Management in 40 years.

  • Factual Report from the BLM: David J Liston Smokejumper Fatality

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Media Articles and Reports

  • BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumper dies during training

    Apr. 30, 2000 | Article (no longer online)

    An Alaska Fire Service smokejumper died during a Fort Wainwright parachute training exercise about 5 p.m. Saturday, Apr. 29, said a fire service information officer. The smokejumper's name could not be released pending family notification.

    The man's parachute failed to open as he was parachuting over an area north of River Road at a common smokejumper training ground, said Andy Williams, a nine-year veteran information officer with the fire service. Investigators do not yet know why the parachute failed.

    Williams said fellow smokejumpers parachuting during the training exercise came to the person's aid -the firefighters are also trained in emergency medical care. An ambulance took the mortally wounded smokejumper to Bassett Army Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

    Williams, who was audibly shaken, said this is the first smokejumper fatality in Alaska since the 1970s. The firefighter was one of 68 in the state. Smokejumpers are the first to respond to remote fires. They fly there by plane and parachute to the fire. More investigators, some from the Lower 48, are expected to travel to Fairbanks to investigate incident. "We're going to try to find out what happened and go through every procedure to make sure something like this doesn't happen again," Williams said.

  • Smokejumping in two states halted after fatality

    May 1, 2000 | Article (no longer online)

    Smokejumpers in Alaska and Idaho are temporarily sstamding down all parachute activities until investigators find out why a 28-year-old man's chute failed to open during training Saturday, Apr. 29. David J. Liston, of Girdwood and Rainbow Valley, whose name was released by the BLM, fell to his death during a training exercise on Fort Wainwright. Fellow smokejumpers came to his aid but to no avail.

    "I wouldn't say it would be unusual to make such a sutanddown given the uncertainty of the nature of the malfunction," said Alaska Fire Service information officer Andy Williams.

    A national investigating team is looking into the cause. Liston was among 68 smokejumpers in the state. The specially trained firefighters are the first to respond to remote fires by parachuting into the area. Williams said he didn't know how long the BLM smokejumping ban would go on but that U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers, who use a different type of parachute, could jump into fires for the time being. "There's nothing to stop BLM smokejumpers from going on helicopters or taking ground transportation to fires," Williams said.

    Liston, a smokejumper since 1998, came to Alaska from Oregon in 1995 to work with the fire service, said a BLM statement. His wife, Kristin, works for the fire service.

  • US Social Security Death Index: David J Liston

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Funeral and Memorial Information: David Liston was born on April 17, 1972 in Portland, Ore. He started working in Alaska in 1995 and rookied with the Alaska Smokejumpers in 1998. The David Liston Memorial Account has been set up at the Ft. Wainwright Federal Credit Union. You can send donations to: In Memory of David Liston, Ft. Wainwright Federal Credit Union, Attn: Tracy Jessen, P.O. Box 35025, Ft. Wainwright, AK 99703
  • Flowers and cards can be sent to:

    Kristin Liston, Fairbanks, AK 99712
    Alaska Smokejumpers, 1513 Gaffney Rd.
    Ft. Wainwright, AK 99703

  • Two Memorial Services will be held:
    • Wednesday May 3, 2000
      4:30 p.m. at the Big Spot on Birch Hill
      Ft. Wainwright, AK
    • Saturday May 6, 2000
      Camp Sherman, Allingham Guard Station
      Natolieous River, near Sisters, OR
  • USFA Memorial Database: David John Liston

From Tiny the R6 Fire Pup (age 16 or 17) in from they said it, May 3, 2000, A Tribute

Tamer's Ode

Surging through a forest tame,
Brighter, brighter grows yonder flame.
Taunting the firefighter, as if by name,
Until surrounded by man-made frame.

His face is blackened by the soot,
His foot is clad by enduring boot,
He heads where man ne'er set afoot,
Into the line, his best effort put.

And through all his protective gear,
Undoubtedly his death draws near,
Despite the danger, he shows no fear,
Oh, who will be those left to hear?

Hear the spoken words of men?
Spoken at the hero's end?
With what mortal words can hearts mend?
How fragile is our comfort rend?

And so to our hero, tried and true,
To our lapels cling ribbon blue,
The duty marches on lieu,
The duty, now, rests with me, and you.

  • Smokejumper Magazine: Fallen Friend

    2/16/2003 | by Mike McMillan (Fairbanks '96)

    Dave Liston smiled upon the gathering of people in the woods. He braced his hands beneath the small round window and stood in the crowded twin-prop airplane. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and snapped the chinstrap on his helmet into place. His heart pounded as he tightened his leg straps. He had never felt this nervous before a practice jump. "Two jumpers!" boomed the spotter at the open door. Three thousand feet below the circling ship, Dave's girlfriend waited in a meadow known as the 'Big Spot'. Kristin shaded the summer sun from her face... More at the link, excellent tribute.

  • David John Liston Obituary at

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Contributors to this article: the community at, smokejumper


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