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Rescue Jump, October 1949

by Jack Demmons (MSO 1950) |

During October 1949 a call came into the Missoula jumper base at Hale Field, requesting aid in the search for a H.C. Davis, age 64, of El Dorado, MO, a businessman, who had disappeared from his hunting camp sixteen miles from the Moose Creek Ranger Station in the Nez Perce N.F. He had left the camp on a Friday morning and by the following Thursday was still missing.

Missoula jumpers boarded a Johnson Flying Service C-47 and were soon airbonre. The jump area was a very rough one, according to Chuck Pickard, one of the jumpers. He said it looked pretty green, with an overstory of young reproduction. However, under the greenery was one terrible field of criss-crossed timber, burned stumps and heavy brush. Some of the jumpers were bruised and shaken up, with Jerry Linton and George King hurt the most.

Prior to selecting a jump spot, two jumpers had bailed out because of a misunderstanding. Fred Brauer, one of the foremen, who was spotting, touched Dick Pennington's leg, with the idea of having him move back out of the door so he could see the ground. Dick took this to mean jump, and he quickly exited the C-47. Lyle Grenager was the #2 man and right behind Dick and left quickly also. The aircraft was quite low when they jumped. (While talking to Fred about this, he was laughing so hard we had to take a break and have a beer.) They landed some distance from the designated jump spot and had a good hike to reach the others.

Once on the ground, Chuck Pickard told the jumpers he and Herb Oertli would handle the cooking, because he was sick of the slop being prepared by people who couldn't boil water. (Chuck had a shirt with three stripes on it, which was fitting for a "Mess Sergeant" and a former Marine.)

The other twelve jumpers had been "gridding" the area where Davis' tracks were last seen. An unusual incident occurred when the second campfire Davis had set was found on a Saturday night by search hounds. The man's shirt, a glove and his gun were located. One of the two flashlights the men had - who were handling the hounds - went out. So one hound was released to go on his own. The handlers believed he would come upon Davis and give out warning howls. Instead, the hound came upon the trail of the packer who was returning Davis' gun to the hunting camp, and took the "fresh scent" to the camp - he took the "hot" trail.

In the end, Moose Creek Ranger Jack Parsell found tracks leading up Pettibone Creek, followed them a quarter of a mile, and came upon the exhausted hunter just before dark. Davis was too weak to continue on. He was carried on an improvised stretcher to the hunting camp. From that point, the jumpers used a special Stokes Stretcher, with a wheel mounted under it, and carried Davis some sixteen miles to the Moose Creek Station. As Chuck said, '"Only jumpers could have handled the detail. There were narrow trails, high drop-offs on one side, creeks that had to be crossed, and the victim had to be checked from time-to-time." The wheeled stretcher was a godsend. (During the days when used, they were dropped by parachutes in two loads and then assembled on the ground.)

Jerry Linton and George King were flown out of Moose Creek because of the beating they took on landing. Bill Wood and Al Cramer were leaders of the jumper search party and were year-round employees. Most of the jumpers had been finished for the season and a number of them were back in college, but all volunteered for the rescue mission. Volunteers all, in the best tradition of smokejumpers, past and present.