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Incident Name: training/parachute program development at Missoula, MT
Date: 5/31/91
Personnel: William F. Martin, a Grangeville Smokejumper
Age: 34
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service, Grangeville, ID
Position: Grangeville Smokejumper, firefighter

Summary: On May 31, 1991 Bill Martin and nine other experienced Forest Service Smokejumpers were training on square RAM Air parachutes near Missoula Montana for an eventual transition from round parachutes to Ram Air parachutes in 1991. While very experienced on the round parachute used by Forest Service jumpers, Bill was essentially a rookie on the new square parachute. For unknown reasons Bill did not find, grasp and pull his main chute rip cord in time and did not release his reserve chute until too late to prevent his fatal collision with the earth. His jump from 3000 feet took only 23 seconds. A fellow smokejumper observed that Bill had released his reserve, and if he'd only had a second or two more for it to open, he probably would have survived. After the accident, development of the RAM Air Parachute Program was discontinued.


Three Photos: Bill and the RAM Air Smokejumper crew; Bill with fellow smokejumper horsing around; Bill's memorial plaque at Grangeville Air Center, ID.

Bill Martin on right (with cup) and his Ram Air Crew Bill Martin on right (with cup) and his Ram Air Crew

Bill, seated in the front row on the right, next to the white coffee cup. This was a photo taken of R1 Smokejumpers involved in the initial group who were training on RAM air parachutes for an eventual transition from round parachutes to Ram Air parachutes in 1991. After the accident the FS ceased pursing the Ram Air parachute, until recently. Back then, this was going to be a transition to a Ram Air Parachute System. Right now (2013) the FS is just training a cadre of Jumpers to use Ram Air Parachutes to gain experience and knowledge to evaluate it as a potential future system.

Bill Martin with his coffee cup Bill Martin with his coffee cup

Taken on a fire in 1990, on the Red River District of the Nez Perce NF. Bill is being bear hugged by Kelvin Thompson, who worked on the District at the time, and later himself would be a Grangeville Smokejumper. Bill is holding the same coffee cup, that was sitting next to him in the previous photo. Bill liked a good cup of coffee!

Bill Martin Memorial Bill Martin Memorial

There is a memorial stone and bronze plaque honoring Bill at the Grangeville Air Center in Grangeville ID.

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The accident occurred in Missoula MT, where the Ram Air Parachute training was being performed. Pin is in the Missoula Smokejumper Base at the Aerial Fire Depot, at the west ent of the Missoula International Airport.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned Center record without documentation:

Record of Bill Martin's death Record of Bill Martin's death
  • Smokejumper LODDs: Bill Martin (101 K pdf) Carl Gidlund, with the National Smokejumper Association (NSA) is the person who coordinated the gathering of information for the NSA document. Many smokejumpers have participated in saving the memories.
  • US Forest Service Heroes Memorial: William F. Martin
  • Bill's name and death date are included in the USFA Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study, published April 2002 (2,888 K pdf)
  • Montana Death Index: William Martin
  • 1993 Joint Hearing on HF 115 the Federal and Postal Service Employees Occupational and Health Act of 1993: Donald Reichert's (NFFE) Prepared statement includes OSHA Findings (21 K pdf)

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Smokejumper dies after his parachute fails to open

    6/3/1991 | online article

    ...The man died Friday during his second training jump of the day from the twin-engine Beach 99 plane. The victim was identified as William Martin, 34, of Grangeville, Idaho, who had made more than 200 parachute jumps. Martin fell to the ground about one mile west of the depot in the regular jump area, and the fall was witnessed by two others who had jumped ahead of him, Robinson said. "His secondary chute did open partially, but not enough to prevent impact." (more at link...)

  • Bill Martin's death and OSHA investigation Bill Martin's death and OSHA investigation
  • William Martin, 34, Grangeville Smokejumper

    Jun 3, 1991 | Online Obituary

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Grangeville Smokejumpers: Website
  • Obituary, National Smokejumper Association: William Martin
  • Obituary:

    Born Sept. 28, 1956, in Moscow. Parents Fred and Ruth Korvola Martin.

    Moved to Estacada, OR, as a boy.
    Graduated from Estacada High School - 1975.
    Attended Oregon State University and the University of Idaho.

    Went to work as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service - 1978.
    Trained to become a smokejumper in La Grande, OR - 1979.
    Moved to Grangeville, ID - 1980.

    He married Kathleen Keeler in Vancouver, WA - May 29, 1986.

    Enjoyed hunting, fishing and trap shooting. He was active in Pheasants Forever, Cottonwood Gun Club and the Grangeville area wrestling program, and was the elementary wrestling coach for Grangeville.

    Survivors: his wife; his father at Gresham, OR; his mother at Portland OR; three brothers: Eric Martin of Portland, OR, Mike Martin of Detroit, MI, and Dan Martin of Gresham, ID; and a sister, Jen Martin of Seattle, WA.


  • USFA Memorial Database: William F Martin

Detail of memorial plaque at Grangeville Air Center, in Grangeville Idaho:

Bill Martin Memorial detail Bill Martin Memorial detail

Grangeville Air Center memorial location - adjacent to the Idaho County Airport

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Contributors to this article: Carl Gidlund for the SJ LODDs document, Brett Rogers, Wildland Firefighter Foundation, John Miller


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