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70-years after fateful delivery, "Miss Montana" returns for smokejumper honor flight

Posted at 7:10 AM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-06 09:10:08-04

MANN GULCH — Seven decades after delivering smokejumpers to the scene of a massive fire, the crew of the plane now known as "Miss Montana" returned to Mann Gulch t o pay tribute to those who died that fateful day.

It was 70-years ago Monday that the C-47 cargo plane out of Missoula delivered her crew of paratroopers to Mann Gulch north of Helena to battle a stubborn, growing fire in remote terrain not far from Holter Lake.

But this mission would turn out to be far from routine, as the smokejumpers were trapped when the fire blew up, covering 3,000 acres in just 10-minutes.

Driven by 30-mile per hour winds, the crew tried to reach safety on a ridge, but couldn't outrun the flames.

Thirteen firefighters would die, and only three would survive in one of the worst calamities in the history of the US Forest Service.

The plane we now know as Miss Montana returned to Mann Gulch Monday to drop 13-wreaths, dropping them from the same door where the men made their fateful drop in 1949.

It was an honor for the crew of "Miss Montana", coming just weeks after they returned from participating in the 70th anniversary of the "D-Day" invasion, which had happened just three months before hell consumed the forest -- and the heroes -- at Mann Gulch.

The disaster at Mann Gulch would be immortalized in one of the classic works by Norman Maclean, "Young Men and Fire", which was published after the author's passing.