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Incident Name: dropped jumpers on a fire on the Nez Perce National Forest
Date: 8/14/56
Personnel: Frank W Small
Age: 50
Agency/Organization: Johnson Flying Service under contract with the Forest Service (Does anyone know if he was flying Grangeville jumpers?)
Position: pilot

Summary: On August 14, 1956, pilot Frank W. Small dropped dead after an emergency landing at Elk City, Idaho, after carrying two jumpers to a fire in the Nez Perce NF. He felt ill after the jumpers were off and told the spotter to keep his chute on and be prepared to jump if anything happened. He made it to the strip about 40 miles east of Grangeville then collapsed after stepping out of the plane. (From "Fly the Biggest Piece Back" Steve Smith, Missoula Press Publishing Company, 1979.)

That plane was a Travelair. Mike Malone was the spotter on board with Frank. (From Earl Cooley's book "Trimotor and Trail".)

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landing strip at Elk City, ID, about 40 mi E of Grangeville

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Source: The Summary above is from this book: "Fly the Biggest Piece Back" Steve Smith, Missoula Press Publishing Company, 1979 (A history of Johnson Flying Service) and Earl Cooley's book "Trimotor and Trail".
  • US Social Security Death Index: Frank Small

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  • Theysaid-it: 2/24/2013 message regarding Fly the Biggest Piece Back from Gordon in R1
  • Theysaid-it: 3/24/2013 discussion of the type of plane dropping jumpers at Mann Gulch and who was on board beginning with the message from CDF Fire Captain who said that this same Frank Small was the Co-Pilot of the C-47 that dropped the Smokejumpers off in Mann Gulch on August 5th, 1949. That was questioned which led to discussion...

    Source of CDF Fire Captain's statement: Both Norman Maclean of Young Men and Fire, and Dave Turner of The Thirteenth Fire ... describe a C-47/DC-3 as the aircraft dropping off the smokejumpers that day on August 5th, 1949.

    >From Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire, page 81: "a C-47 , could only hold sixteen jumpers...", page 42: " The foreman who lay on the right side of the door of the C-47 was in many ways...", Page 39: "The C-47 circled the fire several times before dropping the crew...."

    >From Dave Turners The Thirteenth Fire, Page 15: "Moir is told that the only airplane available for immediate dispatch is a C-47, but that plane only holds 16 jumpers and their gear.", Page 16: "At 2:30 P.M. as the C-47 lifts off from Missoula Field...", Page 16: " On board the east-bound plane on its 40 minute flight to the Helena Forest are the Pilot Ken Huber, co-pilot FRANK SMALL, Forest Service photographer Elmer Bloom, spotter Earl Cooley, assistant spotter Jack Nash, and the 16 jumpers..."

  • From GM as the discussion continued, some excerpts from the Mann Gulch Board of Review, September 26-28, 1949, which did not mention Frank Small on board that day.
  • Source of Tom J's clarification regarding who was on the Mann Gulch plane: Earl Cooley's book "Trimotor and Trail" includes a Chapter with details about Mann Gulch. Earl Cooley was the spotter on that plane. All 16 of the jumpers are listed, then it says: "Elmer Bloom, Forest Service photographer, went along to shoot some film for a movie he was working on. Kenneth Huber was the C-47/DC-3 pilot and Frank Small was the copilot. Jack Nash was the assistant spotter. This made up the full C-47/DC-3 Load."

    In another chapter, Frank Small's last flight is mentioned. That plane was a Travelair. Mike Malone was the spotter on board with Frank.

  • The Mann Gulch C-47 is sitting in the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula. This is from their website:

    “Our main pride and joy is our DC-3/C-47, N24320. this aircraft was ordered by the US Air Force in 1944, declared surplus in 1946, and was purchased by Johnson Flying Service (to whom the museum is actually dedicated, at least in part). She served smokejumper duty for most of her life, but her most famous, infamous, and tragic hour was on August 5, 1949, when she dropped 15 smokejumpers over a routine grass fire in Mann Gulch, near Helena, Montana. The Smoke Spotter, who reported the fire, hiked in to meet the jumpers. Tragically, 13 of these brave men were killed when the fire blew up and chased them up the mountain. Only 3 survived.”

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Media Articles and Reports



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Photos, Videos, & Tributes



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Contributors to this article: Gordon in R1, CDF Fire Captain, GM, Tom J, roadrunner, Misery Whip


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