Remembering Fallen San Jose Police Officer Desmond Casey

On October 25th, we remember fallen San Jose Police Officer Desmond Casey. On October 25, 1999 Officer Casey was killed while piloting the department's helicopter.

Below is the department's official account of Officer Casey's story.

Frantically trying to avoid motorists and pedestrians, the pilot of San Jose's only police helicopter managed to crash-land the crippled chopper Monday on the busy Alameda without injuring anyone on the ground. But he and the mechanic on board were killed.

The helicopter slammed into the middle of the street at about 3:30 pm just north of Interstate 880, just barely skirting cars, buildings, and trees and power lines.

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and Police Chief William Lansdowne called the veteran pilot a hero for apparently steering the spinning copter to the only empty spot in the congested area and averting a worse disaster.

“I'm proud of the training this officer had and the skills that were demonstrated in landing where he did,” an emotional Gonzales said. “We're tremendously saddened by the loss of this officer and his passenger.”

The 5-year-old, $1.65 million helicopter was grounded over the weekend, but police declined to explain what was wrong then or whether the crash was related to the previous problem. The chopper had taken off from San Jose International Airport, where it was based, and flown southwest less than two miles before plummeting to the ground. Lansdowne said the pilot did not report over the radio that he was having trouble. “The pilot purposely pushed the plane into the ground because it was his only choice to avoid the inhabitants,” said a tearful police chief. “He was a wonderful officer with an exemplary record.” Lansdowne said that because the chopper was spinning erratically, it was indicative of some type of malfunction with the rear portion of the helicopter. Police were withholding the identity of both victims until today, after their families could be notified.

Police spokesman Rubens Dalaison said the mechanic was working with San Jose police as part of a contract with Aris Helicopters Ltd. at San Jose International Airport. A spokesman for Aris could not provide any details about the mechanic because his next of kin had not yet been notified.

The pilot, who has been on the force for about ten years, was one of four officers and a sergeant assigned to patrol the city by helicopter. He was the 10th San Jose Police officer killed in the line of duty and the first since Officers Gene R. Simpson and Gordon A. Silva were killed on January 20, 1989, during a shooting.

Dubbed Air One, the McDonnell Douglas MD-520N Notar typically would be the first to reach emergencies and crime scenes and would direct ground units by radio and powerful spotlight.

The crash jarred the commercial and residential area. “It was like thunder, a big boom,” said Brandon Ustaquio, a construction worker at the Cozy Family Restaurant, the closest building to the scene. “He hit the ground and bounced.”

Lou Ginestra, who was helping to remodel the restaurant, was driving several blocks west of the site when he saw the helicopter spinning out of control at a sharp angle. “He was dropping really fast,” Ginestra said. “I knew he couldn't make the airport because he was falling too fast. He definitely tried his best to put it where he did.”

Glen Woolhiser, 49, was at home when he heard a loud noise. “It sounded like a car crash,” said Woolhiser, an insurance inspector. “I expected to see two cars crashed. I was amazed to see a helicopter crash right in front of my house.”

Police sealed off The Alameda for hours between McKendrie and Newhall streets. Traffic was crawling several blocks away, and The Alameda off-ramps from north and southbound 880 were closed until this morning. Police cordoned off several square blocks while officers searched roofs and yards for possible parts of the helicopter that could shed light on the cause of the crash.

The San Jose Police Officers Association headquarters was open throughout the day and night to let officers walk in to express their grief or talk to colleagues. “Obviously, it's very tough,” said POA President Jim Tomaino. “It's a tragedy and we are a very close-knit family. And when you lose one of your family members you take it hard. He was just a friendly guy. I remember he was so excited when he found out the (police) helicopter program was coming to fruition... I remember how hard he fought to get in that unit,” Tomaino said. Like others, Tomaino was in shock and disbelief. Referring to the helicopter, he said “It's a kind of magical thing. It's not supposed to crash. Police cars crash; these things happen. You don't expect that light in the sky to come down.”

National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators were on the scene Monday looking into the cause of the accident.

1999 San Jose Mercury News