Mark Urban, a smokejumper with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from Boise, Idaho, died this past Friday after a parachuting accident that occurred during a training exercise. He was 40. This is the bureau’s first fatal accident involving a smokejumper since 2000.
According to BLM representative Ken Frederick, Urban was a 10-year veteran smokejumper with over 300 jumps since 2003 when he first joined the Great Basin Smokejumpers. "It's tragic. He was a very popular and well-respected member of the crew and everyone has been hit hard by his death," Frederick told Reuters.
Urban was the second to jump from a plane during a training exercise mandatory for each smokejumper every two weeks. Officials are unsure if weather, a medical emergency, or an actual parachute malfunction caused the accident. Paramedics who arrived by helicopter pronounced Urban dead on the scene.
"There was a parachute malfunction at some time, or the parachute failed to do something," Frederick told the Associated Press. "We can't speculate at this time. We'll have to wait for the investigation."
There are 84 Bureau of Land Management Smokejumpers stationed at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, according to the BLM’s website. Smokejumpers are responsible for entering fires in remote areas by way of parachute and are tasked with “wildfire suppression, remote area fire monitoring, prescribed fire, thinning, and other fuels operations."
An official investigation into the matter was scheduled to start on Sunday, and an internal investigation with the BLM started on Saturday. Frederick described Urban as "very experienced, a leader in the program and one of the program's main trainers."