DONALD J. REYNOLDS, CAPT, USMC
Donald Reynolds '63
Date of birth: November 5, 1938
Date of death: December 3, 1969
From the 1963 Lucky Bag:
Jim was killed in an aviation accident on December 3, 1969.
Jim came to USNA with prior enlisted USMC experience. Throughout our four years at USNA and due to our size, we frequently found Jim Reynolds, Larry Graham and/or me in a PT boxing or wrestling ring opposing each other in some Phys Ed class. Jim and I were both commissioned in the USMC.
After six months at The Basic School at Quantico, we both went off to flight school in Pensacola. Jim progressed into advanced instrument training in Kingsville, Tx. but had difficulty there and ended up as a RIO in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom, aircraft. We both went off to Viet Nam in the fall of 1966. Jim was assigned to the "Death Rattlers" of VMFA-542 while I went to the "Black Knights" of VMFA-314, both based at Chu Lai, RVN.
After Vietnam, I spent approximately a year with Second ANGLICO at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and then was assigned to VMFAT-201 at Cherry Point, NC. VMFAT-201 was the Marine Corp's squadron for transition training into the F-4 aircraft for both pilots and RIOs, including both nuggets fresh from the training command as well as those more experienced who were in transition from some other prior assignments. It was essentially the USMC version of a Navy RAG.
Jim was an instructor RIO and I was an instructor pilot. On December 3, 1969 Jim was assigned as the instructor RIO for an F-4 pilot in training to fly an instrument round robin flight. They were to take off about 1300, fly a round robin flight ending up at MCAS Beaufort, SC, shoot a penetration and approach at Beaufort to a missed approach, climb back to altitude and fly up the coast and back to MCAS Cherry Point for another approach to a full stop landing and the completion of the flight.
The pilot in training had several chili dogs as we all had a hurried lunch in our ready room. They were wheels in the well out of Cherry Point by about 1330. An hour or so later, the radio in our ready room crackled on squadron common frequency. It was Jim Reynolds checking in with squadron operations with what he reported as a "strange situation". He reported that they had flown a routine round robin flight, shot the approach into MCAS Beaufort, climbed back to altitude and were currently northbound off the coast of South Carolina. He said that he could not speak with the pilot in the front seat who was not responding to his attempted communications and that it appeared that the pilot was unconscious. The only way for two F-4 crew members to communicate visually in an F-4 was through a mirror located on the left side of the front seat cockpit. By both crew members looking into that mirror, they could at least attempt to communicate with hand signals, gestures, etc.
Jim reported that the pilot's visor was down and completely covering his face and that his head was hanging down as if he was unconscious. When Jim checked in on squadron common, he reported being at approximately 20,000 feet altitude with the aircraft in a mild descent which he reported as becoming more pronounced. Various suggestions were made none of which seemed very good solutions. Please remember, Jim Reynolds was in the back seat of an F-4 that seemed to be trimmed in a descent and he had no flight controls in that back seat with which he might have been able to correct the situation. It was decided that Jim should continue to attempt to raise the pilot on the ICS system or visually down to an altitude of 10,000 feet.
If the aircraft went below 10,000 feet, it was decided that Jim should presume the pilot to be totally incapacitated and that he should eject. That is exactly what happened. When Jim ejected below 10,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, the aircraft was on the verge of supersonic flight. Jim was torn apart and probably dead before the parts ever hit the water. With the rear cockpit canopy now gone, the aircraft was immediately flooded with fresh air. The fresh air eventually revived the pilot somewhere below 5,000 feet. He flew the aircraft back to Cherry Point and made an uneventful landing.
The investigation revealed that during the flight the pilot had experienced some form of stomach distress, probably due to the chili dogs at lunch. He felt that his distress was being made worse because his g-suit inflated and squeezed his stomach. When he reached down with his left hand to disconnect his g-suit, it was felt that he actually disconnected his oxygen hose which was located right beside the g-suit hose. Disconnecting the oxygen hose had deprived him of oxygen at altitude which eventually led to him passing out. The fresh air in the cockpit after Jim's ejection eventually revived the pilot. Strange situation to say the least!
Jim made it through well over 150 combat missions in Vietnam and then went out in such a fashion. Flying in high performance jet aircraft for the US Naval service is not without it's potential perils whether in wartime of peacetime. Jim had married his USNA drag, Galena Opashawnski, who had immigrated from Russia. As I recall, they had two daughters. Dick Jones