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Posted: 12/6/2001 10:36:09 PM EDT
[url]http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/1087467[/url] Oct. 14, 2001, 1:07AM Hero in the cockpit Pistol served pilot well in '54 By EVAN MOORE Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle FORT WORTH -- Until now it was largely forgotten, a brief, tragic incident that lay buried in fading newspaper accounts and the memories of only a few, but the shooting of a hijacker by an airline pilot almost 50 years ago has taken on a new significance today. It occurred shortly before noon on July 6, 1954, when a strapping teen-ager armed with a pistol commandeered an American Airlines DC-6 at the Cleveland Airport, only to be shot and fatally wounded by the captain. The shooting ended the life of Raymond Kuchenmeister, 15. It made a reluctant hero of the late Capt. William "Bill" Bonnell of Fort Worth and left an indelible mark on Bonnell's psyche that he could never successfully erase. Moreover, in light of the recent terrorist attacks and the ensuing debates over whether pilots should be armed, the 1954 incident illustrates a forgotten time when pilots not only routinely carried pistols, but were required to carry them. On that Tuesday, 47 years ago, Bonnell was carrying his, a small, .380-caliber Colt semiautomatic, holstered in his flight bag. Bonnell, a tall, quiet man, was a former Army Air Corps pilot who had served three stints in the service, two of those flying transport planes over China and Burma during World War II. He also was ambidextrous. "Bill could use either hand equally well," Jean Bonnell, his widow, recalled. "He used to play jokes on the shooting instructors in the military. There'd be a line of officers, all in the same stance, shooting at targets. One time, the instructor would walk down the line and Bill would be shooting right-handed. The next time, he'd be shooting with his left. He shot the same score with both hands." Bill Bonnell joined American Airlines in 1936, and that airline, like others, transported U.S. mail. "Back in those days, the pilot or co-pilot had to hand-carry the mail from the plane to the terminal," recalled George Patten, 85, a retired American pilot and a friend of Bonnell's. "Postal regulations required that you be armed. We all had to have guns, and American had us buy little .380s." Bonnell's pistol remained in his flight bag. His widow recalled that he had not removed the weapon in years before the day of the hijacking. On that day, Bonnell had flown from Fort Worth to Cleveland in the morning and was preparing for the return flight. The plane was carrying almost a full load, 58 passengers, and all had been seated. Bonnell stopped and spoke to a young mother with two small children seated at the front. He then entered the cockpit and had already locked himself, his co-pilot and the engineer inside when Kuchenmeister approached the airplane ramp.
Link Posted: 12/6/2001 10:36:56 PM EDT
Police said Kuchenmeister, the oldest of seven children, was a troubled youth who had stolen a pistol and persuaded his 12-year-old brother to run away from home with him. He hatched his plan to hijack a plane earlier in the day, but once at the airport, the 12-year-old declined to accompany him. So, alone, clad in dirty denim pants and a leather jacket, Kuchenmeister left his little brother in the terminal and walked out on the tarmac. There he pushed past an airline agent and was headed up the stairs to the plane when the agent demanded his ticket. "This is my ticket," the burly youth reportedly said, and pointed the pistol at the agent. The agent retreated, and at the entrance to the plane, Kuchenmeister told a stewardess he needed to see the pilot. Thinking he was part of the ground crew, she opened the cockpit, where Kuchenmeister, unnoticed by the passengers, stepped into the cramped quarters, closed the door and turned the gun on Bonnell. "I want to go to Mexico," Kuchenmeister told Bonnell and his crew. "No stops." Bonnell and the co-pilot attempted to explain to Kuchenmeister that the plane did not have enough fuel to reach Mexico, but the youth would not be deterred. Finally, flight engineer Bob Young told Kuchenmeister they would take off but that it was necessary to throw a switch behind Kuchenmeister before the plane could taxi. As the hijacker turned to look for the switch, Bonnell reached into his flight bag with his left hand, removed the pistol, swung around to his right and shot Kuchenmeister. The wounded hijacker then attempted to shoot Bonnell, but his pistol misfired and Bonnell shot him again. "I shot him in the hip," Bonnell later recalled. "He sagged a bit. I let him have it again, a little higher. "I had a maniac on my plane. We had women and children. What the hell could a guy do?" Kuchenmeister was taken to a hospital, and Bonnell, the only qualified American pilot in Cleveland at the time, flew the plane back to Fort Worth. In midflight, he received word from Cleveland that the hijacker was only 15 and that he had died. When Bonnell stepped from the plane, reporters described him as ashen and shaking. "Bill told me later that the first thing he thought about when he was reaching for the gun was that woman and her two children at the front of the plane," Jean Bonnell said. "I said, `Why didn't you shoot him in the head with the second shot?' "Bill said, `Because I didn't want to kill him.' "
Link Posted: 12/6/2001 10:37:36 PM EDT
Bill Bonnell returned to Cleveland the following day. "He wanted to go out and talk to the boy's family, to pay for the funeral," Jean Bonnell said, "but the police talked him out of it." Bonnell received hundreds of letters from the passengers on that flight and their relatives, commending him for his actions. "But Bill was never proud of what he'd done," Jean Bonnell said. "He'd been in the service, and he'd had to fight, but this was different. He told me it took him a day to convince himself that hijacker was really 15. He told me, `My God, Jean, we have a 13-year-old son.' "After the first few weeks, he stopped talking about it and would never talk about it again. I don't think he ever completely got over it. "But what if he hadn't had that gun? What if he hadn't shot? What would have happened to all those passengers?" The event was front-page news for two days, then faded away, and for 47 years the Bonnell family refused to discuss it publicly. Jean Bonnell said she agreed to speak about her husband now only because of the recent terrorist attacks and requests by pilots associations to be armed. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Airline Pilots Association and the Allied Pilots Association proposed allowing pilots to carry handguns loaded with lightweight projectiles. The first group modified its proposal to include only stun guns, but the Allied association has not altered its stance. President Bush has opposed the idea, as have the Airports Council International and the Association of Flight Attendants, though a number of legislators from both parties have supported the pilots' groups. The Senate passed an aviation security bill Thursday that would allow pilots to carry handguns. A similar bill is pending in the House. In the meantime, congressional action on the proposal could be unnecessary, according to the Code of Federal Regulations governing aviation. That document, Chapter 11, Part 108, provides that no person can carry a weapon onto a plane unless that person is "authorized to have the weapon by the certificate holder (airline) and has completed a course of training in the use of firearms acceptable to the Administrator (FAA)." That regulation was adopted in 1981 and has not been changed. Federal Aviation Administration officials acknowledged that the regulation is "on the books" and that it provides for armed pilots, but refused to answer more questions about it. Bill Bonnell quit carrying his weapon July 7, 1954. "He never carried it again," Jean Bonnell said. "Bill retired (in 1970). We moved, and we burned all the letters he'd received and any news clippings. We didn't want to remember it, but he could never really put it behind him. "He died in 1991, and I'm afraid his later years were not very happy ones. "A lot of people thought he was a hero, but Bill never considered himself one."
Link Posted: 12/6/2001 11:44:25 PM EDT
Thats all nice '71, but nowadays we have gubmint "Professionals" to protect us from hijackers. Now we also have the FAA-SS bag boys [url]http://www.ar15.com/forums/topic.html?id=73293[/url] make sure no one brings a disposable razor or nail clippers in their carry on luggage. Don't you feel safer this way? rDAm
Link Posted: 12/7/2001 8:28:25 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Invictus: Thats all nice '71, but nowadays we have gubmint "Professionals" to protect us from hijackers. Now we also have the FAA-SS bag boys [url]http://www.ar15.com/forums/topic.html?id=73293[/url] make sure no one brings a disposable razor or nail clippers in their carry on luggage. Don't you feel safer this way? rDAm
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