GRANTS PASS, Ore.– The pilots at Hellgate Jetboat Excursions honored one of their own Sunday evening in a special tribute after losing him in a motorcycle crash.
John Yanutik III, 51, known as Jonny Tsunami and The Flyin’ Hawaiian, passed away on Friday after crashing off Highway 260 on his motorcycle.
In his honor Sunday, five boats known at the Jetboat 5 – that included Johnny – made their way into Grants Pass along the Rogue River, performing a 360 spin near the Caveman Bridge all as a sign of farewell from the company to a co-worker, a friend, and most importantly a longtime member of their family.
“He’s one of the best boat drivers you could ever imagine,” said Donny Brent, a friend, and fellow co-worker.
Ripples on the river constantly flow. Some are small but others make a much larger impact.
On the last ride of the 2019 season, boats from Hellgate made some of their biggest waves for one of their oldest friends – all as a way to say goodbye.
“He wouldn’t want anybody upset,” said Brent. “Nobody with their head down. Lift their head high, laugh, toast him, roast him, he’s that kind of guy.”
Yanutik worked at Hellgate for three decades. He and Brent both started together in 1990. He earned his many nicknames from from having ancestors from Hawaii – his mother was Hawaiian – and his ability to always make sure people could get soaked during the rides.
“He enjoyed the outdoors, he loved going to the dunes, riding motorcycles, all kinds of thrill things – especially boating,” said Brent.
Brent said Johnny’s life was anything but boring. A family man, a gear-head – Johnny practically lived on the river. He even built most of the boats Hellgate uses today.
“You know he’s just a great guy. It’s just like somebody that’s there all the time,” said Brent. “He was always there for anybody. He will be sorely missed.”
While still difficult to comprehend for his friends and family – this loss also ripples across the community. On Sunday, as boats made their final trip of the season, hundreds came out to bid a final farewell to Johnny and watch as his family laid a wreath in the river to honor him.
Like ripples on a river, his spirit spreads far and wide. These waves just won’t have the same impact as they did before.
“It will take a lot of each of us leaning on one another, to get past this,” said Brent. “Not saying we’ll ever get past it but in the sense that we won’t be sad, we’ll be happy that we got to know him. We were privileged.”
NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.
Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.