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Incident Name:  Oak Fire, a 20-acre lightning fire on the Big Bar District, Shasta Trinity National Forest
Date: 6/3/1970
Personnel: Thomas Reginnetter
Age: 
Agency/Organization: US Forest Service
Position: Redding Smokejumper

Summary: On June 3, 1970, Tom and 15 other smokejumpers were flown to the Oak Fire on the Big Bar Ranger District on the Shasta Trinity NF. Jumpers jumped in 2-man sticks. Tom was in the next-to-last stick, to be followed by one more pair. After Tom exited, the spotter noticed that Tom was drifting to the SW with his hands hanging at his sides, not on the guidelines. He held up the last stick and asked the pilot to continue circling to see what or where Tom did or went. The aircraft circled about 3 times with a lot of radio chatter between it and the ground. The final stick eventually jumped and landed in the jump spot. Those who found Tom determined that he had a broken neck. Apparently the static line wrapped around neck while he exited the aircraft. (For an expanded description from the smokejumper and family interviews Carl Gidlund put together, see below.)

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Maps

Oak Creek Drainage on the Big Bar RD, Shasta Trinity NF; The fire was about 15 min in the DC-10 from the jump base.

Rough Location of the very small Oak Fire?

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • The following description was provided by Larry Boggs (Redding '63) in the NSA booklet compiled by Carl Gidlund.

    On June 3, 1970, Tom and 15 other smokejumpers were flown to the Oak Fire on the Big Bar Ranger District on the Shasta Trinity NF. The fire was about 15 min in the DC-3 from the jump base. After dropping drift sticks, Bob Kersh started dropping 2-man sticks. Tom was in the next-to-last stick, to be followed by Kevin Hodgin and Larry Boggs. After Tom exited, Hodgin and Boggs were told to hook up and stand in the door. The spotter noticed that Tom was drifting to the SW with his hands hanging at his sides, not on the guidelines. He held up the last stick and asked the pilot to continue circling to see what or where Tom did or went. Boggs' first thought was that Tom had either knocked himself out in the jump or did ot know where the spot was.

    The aircraft orbited about 3 times with a lot of radio chatter between it and the ground. Tom was drifting SW into Oak Creek drainage but suddenly the parachute turned 180 degrees and headed for the fire. The plane continued to circle until his parachute drifted into the jump spot, at which time Hodgin and Boggs were again told to hook up and get in the door. They jumped and landed in the spot, which was on the ridge next to the fire's edge.

    Those who found Tom determined that he had a broken neck. The only mark on him was a red and black line, about 6-8 inches long (looking like a static line burn) on the left side of his neck. The day was getting short and there was no place for the helicopter to land so help or an investigation team couldn't be on-site immediately. Some of the jumpers worked most of the night building a helispot for the investigation team's arrival the next day and to facilitate the departure of the jumpers who would be relieved by other firefighters. It was a very sad day and a long night.

  • California Smokejumpers History, the 1970s

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

 

 

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Media Articles and Reports

  • Smokejumpers: Area Base marks 50 years of service; jumping took off slowly, faced few tragedies
    5/13/2007 | Online article

    The idea is simple. The quickest way to deliver wildland firefighters to a blaze far from roads, rails or rivers is to drop them out of an airplane. But the U.S. Forest Service didn't exactly jump at the smokejumping proposal championed by some of its workers in the 1930s, said Robert Kersh, who was the first parachute loft foreman for the California Smokejumper base in Redding. "People might have thought they were nuts," he said, "but they were men of vision." And the Forest Service eventually approved experimental parachute jumps. (snip)

    In the base's 50 years, there's been only one smokejumper killed during a jump, Kersh said. Tom Reginnetter, a California Smokejumper, broke his neck when he got caught up in rigging gear as he jumped from a plane onto an early season fire in 1970. (much more at the link)

  • Fire Down to Earth - The story of Smokejumpers from Redding.com
    Explore a variety of topics ; nicely done

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • California State Memorial wall:

    THOMAS J. REGENNITtER, Smokejumper, US Forest Service, June 3, 1970

    Thomas Regennitter was a skilled smokejumper for the US Forest Service. In four years, he made a total of 33 jumps, until he got the call to parachute over Shasta-Trinity National Forest to help crews fight the Oak Fire. As he was preparing to make his jump, his right foot became entangled in his own static line, causing him to trip and fall out of the plane. He died of a broken neck and other head injuries

    2010 memorial wall publication, p13
    State of California Memorial wall

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Contributors to this article: Brett Rogers, Carl Gidlund, The Wildland Firefighter Foundation, John Miller

 

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