San Jose Police Officer Desmond Casey was killed on October 25, 1999, when his helicopter crashed after he lost control of the aircraft while approaching San Jose International Airport.
Officer Casey was able to avoid crashing into a heavily populated area by veering his aircraft onto a section of highway near Interstate 880. Both Casey and a mechanic were killed when the helicopter slammed into the middle of the street
The helicopter had been grounded two days earlier when Casey had taken San Jose Department’s only helicopter on a routine flight. Casey made a precautionary landing at Reid Hillview Airport to have the aircraft checked out because the helicopter didn’t feel quite “right.”
Casey took off from Reid Hillview on Oct. 25, after a comprehensive test failed to discover any problem with the aircraft. The five-year-old helicopter named “Air One” crashed just 12 minutes after take off.
San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and Police Chief William Lansdowne called the veteran pilot a hero for steering the spinning helicopter to the only empty spot in the congested area.
“We are tremendously saddened by the loss of the officer and his passenger,” said Gonzales. “I’m proud of the training this officer had and the skill that was demonstrated in landing where he did.”
Chief Lansdowne said that Casey was a wonderful officer with an exemplary record.
The 38-year-old Casey, who grew up in San Carlos, had been with the San Jose Police Department for 10 years. He was one of four officers and one sergeant assigned to patrol the city by helicopter. He was the 10th officer from the San Jose Police Department to be killed in the line of duty.
Casey had a history of performing courageous acts. As a first lieutenant in the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard, Casey flew in Operation Northern Watch and helped to patrol northern Iraq airspace.
He also flew missions to rescue northern California flood victims in 1997 and 1998.
Just two weeks prior to the crash, Casey piloted a mission to save the life of a firefighter trapped by a wildfire in Big Sur.
Casey was able to master anything he tried. Before joining the force, Casey was a wild-animal trainer and a water skier at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo.
While working patrol, Casey decided he wanted to become a pilot in the department’s support unit Casey took a leave of absence from the force, became a U.S. Army warrant officer and got into helicopter flight school.
A memorial service was held for Casey on Friday, Oct.29 at 11a.m. in San Jose at the Center for the Performing Arts. More than 3,200 officers, civic leaders, firefighters and others attended the service.
Speakers included Attorney Gen. Bill Lockyer, Chief Lansdowne, and Mayor Gonzales.
Because of his heroic actions as a result of his concern for his fellow citizens, Officer Casey was posthumously awarded the department’s highest award: the Medal of Honor. Casey was only the eighth person to receive the award.
Casey also received the California Cross and the Medal of Valor from the California Air National Guard.
A full requiem mass was conducted in Latin, and the honor guard with the San Jose Police Department performed a 21 gun salute. Casey was also saluted by an eight-helicopter flyby flown in the missing man formation.
A C-130 airplane also participated in the salute from Casey’s air guard unit.
After the service, Casey’s body was taken to Santa Clara for burial.
Casey is survived by his mother, Mitzie, father, Desmond, two sisters, and his fiancée, Theresa Nance, a Santa Clara County parks ranger.