Filmed on Apr. 24, 1988 at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro during the local air show, the infamous video in this post shows Marine Corps pilot Col. Jerry Cadick smashing his F/A-18 Hornet into the ground in a crowd-silencing crash.
The crash crushed Cadick’s face, broke his neck in three places and shattered five ribs. An arm and both legs were broken, and both ankles were splintered. A vertebra in his lower spine exploded.
Cadick’s family, close friends and surgeons worried about whether the veteran fighter pilot would ever walk again.
But three years after his F/A-18 Hornet nosed toward earth from 2,150 feet and slammed into a runway at MCAS El Toro, Jerry Cadick not only started to walk again but was also back in the cockpit too after having obtained a commercial pilot’s license.
It hasn’t been easy, Cadick said of his recovery.
During his lengthy rehabilitation, he had to put himself back together both physically and emotionally.
“There is life after the Marine Corps,” the former group commander at El Toro quipped. “And it’s pretty good.”
In his first in-depth interview since his recovery, Cadick, talked about his career-ending crash and his new life away from the corps to Los Angeles Times.
“It all happened in a six-month period or so. I broke my body, I broke a perfectly good F-18, failed to get promoted to a general officer . . . and got medically retired,” Cadick said.
During rehabilitation, Cadick got a master’s degree in international business at National University. After raising money from investors, he started a commercial venture that deals with two important things in his life: airplanes and the military.
His company, Tactical Military Air Training Systems, based in San Clemente, tested a unique laser and smoke system designed to let military pilots engaged in mock aerial combat know instantly if a simulated missile has been launched in their direction and if it has found its target–information that fliers now have to wait for until after the dogfight is over and they land and review videotapes.
Cadick said his life began to turn around the day he met Chino air show pilot Frank C. Sanders in the fall of 1988, six months after his accident. Sanders helped Cadick figure out what happened to cause his F/A-18 to slam into the ground at a force 75 times greater than that of gravity.
But, more important, Cadick recalled, Sanders said one day, “Let’s go flying.”
“All the doctors and all the surgeons working on me would have fainted,” Cadick said. “But it was the best therapy in the world for me.”
Cadick said he cannot remember a thing about his crash.
After months of study, however, Sanders–with the help of cockpit film from Cadick’s F/A-18 showing exact airspeeds, altitude and attitude, and films shot from the ground–began piecing together the events that ended with the smoldering wreckage of Cadick’s $30-million plane at the end of the El Toro runway.
The maneuver that Cadick was performing that day is known as a “square Immelman.” Done correctly, the plane passes low in front of the crowd, pulls into a vertical climb and then turns over on its back away from the crowd.
But things began to go wrong as Cadick pulled out of his climb. His airspeed was dangerously low. Sanders theorized that Cadick was concentrating so intently on picking up more speed that he missed his cue to turn. When he pulled back on the stick, he drove the plane into the ground rather than horizontally away from the crowd.
“It drove me crazy trying to figure out what happened,” Cadick said. “I racked my brain trying to recall what happened. Either it’s no longer there or it’s so tightly locked up that it won’t come out.”
Tragically, Sanders was killed on May 4, 1990, when his T-33 jet crashed at an air show in New Mexico.
For Cadick, who came to terms with his own crash, what has happened has happened. He is not dwelling on what might have been.
“I’m putting on my backpack and heading straight up the mountain,” he said like a true Marine. “I’m not looking back and rehashing history. Thank goodness I feel that way, or I would still be back there swilling around.”
Jerry Cadick passed away on Aug. 4, 2015. He was 72.
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