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Tragedy Out of McCall

by Jack Demmons (MSO 1950) |

The first Smokejumper fatality in the history of this elite organization did not take place at Mann Gulch north of Helena, Montana on August 5, 1949. Instead, the scene was in the Payette National Forest of Idaho. The accounts of that tragedy were recalled from the recollections of John P. Ferguson and Wayne R. Webb, who were with the McCall Smokejumper unit at the time.

They remembered that of July 3 1946, a lookout had reported a fire started by lightning, burning on Fall Creek Ridge, near the Middle Fork of the Weiser River. Three Jumpers, Lester Lyclama, John L. Hennessey and Coston T. Aguirre, were dropped on it. Bob Fogg was the pilot. Lloyd Johnson did the spotting and John Ferguson assisted in dropping cargo.

The following day, on July 4th, the Smokejumper base at McCall received a call, which reported that one of the men who had jumped on the Fall Creek Ridge fire was seriously injured. John Ferguson and Lloyd Johnson were the leaders of a rescue squad, that included Jumpers Wayne Webb, Edward Case and Bruce Froman. Bob Fogg piloted the rescue ship, which landed first at Council, Idaho southwest of McCall, to meet with Dr. Alvin Thurston, who gave them emergency instructions. They picked up a more complete medical kit, which included blood plasma. Dr. Thurston was to meet the rescue team along a road leading to the trail where the injured Jumper would be carried out.

From the time of the initial call until the rescue team parachuted to the scene of the injury had been only 38 minutes. Lester Lyclama was the injured Jumper. He and John Hennessey had been falling a ponderosa pine tree with a ( crosscut saw when the top third of the tree broke loose and fell, almost in an_/ upright position. Aguirre had shouted a warning and the sawyers started running, but Lyclama tripped on a root and was struck on the head by a limb from the falling tree. He was knocked unconscious.

The accident had happened around 9:30 P.M. on July 3d. Hennessey had taken off cross-country 8 miles to a road on the Middle Fork of the Weiser River for help, while Aguirre stayed with Lyclama. A passing motorist picked up Hennessey and took him to Council where he called the Forest Dispatcher at McCall, requesting help.

The Smokejumper rescue team carried Lyclama 4 miles on a stretcher to a trail, and had started down a road leading to it when they were met by Dr. Thurston who was heading a ground party. (Kenny Roth, former Smokejumper and pilot for the Johnson Flying Service--now living in Missoula--was in the ground unit.) Johnson, Ferguson and Aguirre continued on with the group to the hospital, while Webb, Case and Froman went back to the fire and completed putting it out.

Lester Lyclama died at 5:30 A.M. on July 5th on the operating table. He had never regained consciousness. Lester Lyclama became the first Smokejumper to die in the line of duty.

It is now a little more than 47 years since the accident happened. Costan Aguirre is now deceased. Ed Case and John Ferguson live in Ogden, Utah today and Wayne Webb resides at Yuma, Arizona. Each is a member of the Association o We do not know where Bruce Froman, Lloyd Johnson, John Hennessey or Bob Fogg might be. We would appreciate any information one might have concerning these ex-Jumpers and Pilot. Hopefully, they are still alive.