More detail on this person: Vintage aircraft
accidentMen killed in crash had flown in combat,
Vintage craft spun out at Steamboat airshow
By Jeff Kass, Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
As a Marine pilot in Vietnam, Joseph E. Gunnels once safely crash-landed a helicopter full of injured Marines after his co-pilot was shot in the head, and his own back was filled with shrapnel. He was a 1stLt in HMM-364 in Vietnam during 1965 and 1966. Gunnels, 59, who was to retire as a United Airlines 747 captain in October, died Sunday, September 3, 2000, while flying a single-engine, World War II-era plane in a Steamboat Springs vintage air show. His wife Jane was in the stands, but did not see the crash, said his best friend and "wingman" Bill Porter. If there was one consolation, Porter said Monday, Gunnels died while in the pilot's seat. "I don't think either of us would have chosen to go any other way," said Porter, himself a retired United pilot. The cause of the 2:15 p.m. crash under clear skies is under investigation. Authorities say the plane did a flat spin before landing on its belly in a vacant field just outside the town center. Gunnels, who lived in Aurora, and his passenger Lynn David White, 49, of Steamboat Springs were dead at the scene.
Like Gunnels, White taught others how to fly and was a decorated war veteran. His wife, Linda White, said he was a B-52 gunner on missions over Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War. White had retired from the Air Force, but worked as a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol searching for downed planes, his wife said. He completed his first solo flight at age 16. White was a truck driver for an excavation firm and was working at the Vintage Fly In. It did not appear that White and Gunnels knew each other well. But family and friends of both said that several people had hoped to sit with Gunnels as he flew in formation with other planes. "But he (White) was selected," his wife said, "and it was unfortunate for me, and him, and the pilot."
Porter described Gunnels' plane as a 1945 SNJ-5. Gunnels purchased the plane in 1996, and Porter valued it at over $200,000. It was Gunnels' dream plane, and a memorial to his fallen Vietnam comrades. Gunnels painted the plane white, with purple stripes edged in black. A purple fox was on the plane's nose. It bore the number 14. All for a reason. In Vietnam, Gunnels was a member of the Purple Foxes squadron, which lost 14 of its members - about 35 percent, Porter said.
On Monday, Porter read a eulogy he had written to Gunnels. "Joe is now flying West with a smile on his face and an honor guard of brave Marine aviators," Porter wrote, using an old aviators term where West means home. "Happy landings, Joe."
In addition to his wife, Gunnels is survived by two grown children; White by his wife and two grown stepchildren.
Porter said a memorial service for Gunnels will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday, September 8, 2000 at the Dick Jones Hangar at Centennial Airport, south of Denver. The service will include a flyover of vintage aircraft. Another United Captain and former Purple Fox, Frank Kerwin, of Brookfield, CT spoke during the memorial service that included a 20-plane fly-by. VHPA member Walt Wise flew in a restored OV-1D in the fly-by. There is a picture of Joe on the POPASMOKE website under the HMM-364 Taps section.
There is a picture of Joe on the POPASMOKE website under the HMM-364 Taps section.
Marines: I will be participating in this flyover honoring Joe Gunnels. I will be flying a OV1-D (an Army Vietnam vintage aircraft). The individual that I am flying with is also another Marine; his name is Sid Dines. Bob Heckendorf & Bill Porter both of the 69'th SOG were instrumental in putting together this 20 airplane flyover in honor of Joe Gunnels.
Semper Fi, Walt Wise
Regret I can not attend memorial services. Anyone attending please give condolences to Jean from John & Roni Pierson.
From: John H. Pierson Jr., Major USMC Ret.
This information was last updated 05/18/2016
Please send additions or corrections to: HQ@vhpa.org VHPA Headquarters
Return to the Helicopter Pilot DAT name list
Return to VHPA web site
Date posted on this site: 03/11/2023
Copyright © 1998 - 2023 Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association