Caradori's Airplane 'Broke Up in Flight' - July 12, 1990 - Omaha World-Herald
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Caradori's Airplane 'Broke Up in Flight'; [Sunrise Edition]
Robert Dorr Gabriella Stern. Omaha World - Herald. Omaha, Neb.: July 12, 1990. pg. 1
Full Text (1748 words)
(Copyright 1990 Omaha World-Herald Company)
World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.
The small plane that carried Lincoln private detective Gary Caradori and his 8-year-old son to their deaths in Illinois early Wednesday apparently broke up in flight, two investigators said Wednesday.
"It was a scattered wreckage pattern," said Bill Bruce, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. "It certainly demonstrates that it did break up in flight. The exact mechanism of the breakup is unknown."
Sheriff Tim Bivins of Lee County, Ill., who spent 12 hours at the crash site, said he didn't think an explosion occurred while the plane was in the air. He said he thought the plane "came apart in the air" and exploded on impact. Bivins said plane debris was scattered over an area three-quarters of a mile long.
Caradori was the private investigator looking into allegations of child sexual abuse for the Legislature's Franklin Credit Union committee. The committee is investigating matters related to the 1988 failure of Omaha's Franklin Community Federal Credit Union. Caradori worked for the committee.
Caradori, 41, and his son, Andrew, died on their way back to Lincoln after attending the Tuesday night All-Star Game in Chicago. Caradori was piloting the plane, which left Chicago early Wednesday morning.
There apparently was no unusual weather, such as rain or fog, when the plane came down near Ashton, said forecaster Michael Bell of the National Weather Service office in Rockford, Ill.
Caradori was considered a "very competent pilot," said a Lincoln man familiar with Caradori's flying. He asked not to be identified. "He flew out of (Lincoln) on a regular basis."
Bivins said Caradori radioed from his plane that "he was having trouble with some equipment aboard, a compass."
"Shortly thereafter we have indications that he called in a 'mayday' and then his plane went down. It was lost on radar," Bivins said from Dixon, Ill.
The sheriff said he did not know whether Caradori was communicating with one or two agencies at the time - Midway Airport in Chicago, his point of origin, or regional Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers in Aurora, Ill.
State Sen. Loran Schmit of Bellwood, chairman of the Franklin legislative committee, told The Associated Press in Lincoln that he had no doubt there were people who wanted to see Caradori dead.
"They got their wish," he said. ". . . The question to be answered is whether it was a coincidence."
Schmit, himself a pilot with 40 years' flying experience, stopped short of saying he thought Caradori's plane was sabotaged, but he added in an interview with AP:
"A small plane is the perfect thing to use to get at someone. . . . They tend to burn when they crash, and things get burned, destroyed, scattered. You don't need a bomb. A fuel line could be tampered with. Any number of possibilities are there."
The crash occurred between 2:40 a.m. and 2:57 a.m. four miles south of Ashton, a town of about 500 people in north-central Illinois, about 100 miles west of Chicago, the sheriff's office said.
The plane came down in a field of 4-foot-high corn, said Jessica James of WSDR radio in Sterling.
The All-Star game at Chicago's Wrigley Field ended about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday. Caradori and his son flew out of Midway Airport at 2 a.m., said Capt. Gene Lutz, Lee County chief deputy sheriff.
About 2:40 a.m., the FAA regional traffic control center in Aurora lost radio and radar contact with the plane, Lutz said. The Lee County Sheriff's Office was notified at 2:57 a.m. that a plane apparently was down, he said.
The plane, owned by Caradori, was a single-engine, six-passenger Piper. It appeared to be headed for the airport in neighboring Whiteside County, Ill., when it went down, Lutz said.
The sheriff's office called for a hospital helicopter from Rockford, figuring that as the quickest way to find the plane, Lutz said. A medical team was on board in case there were survivors, he said.
The helicopter spotted the smoking wreckage at 5:56 a.m., he said.
Caradori kept his plane in a hangar he rented from the Lincoln Airport Authority, said Wayne Andersen, director of the authority.
Scott Caradori of Ralston told The World-Herald that his brother was a careful flier of more than 15 years who would not take chances, especially with his son on board, and had never had a mishap.
He said he did not rule out sabotage, given the nature of his brother's work with the Franklin committee. "Our family received numerous threats over that, telling him to back off," he said.
Gary Caradori had a love of both flying and sports, his brother said. He often flew off to attend major sporting events such as Super Bowls, World Series and boxing matches.
Caradori and his wife, Sandi, have one other child, a son, Sean, who is 16. When Caradori and son Andrew flew to Chicago Monday, Sean stayed home and obtained his own pilot's license Monday, said Scott Caradori, and "he was looking forward to telling Gary about that."
'Lives in Danger'
Schmit said: "Gary Caradori was a good man who did a lot of good in his life. He helped a lot of people. He was a tireless worker and he has been invaluable to this committee's work."
Lee County Coroner Richard Schilling said autopsies would be performed today.
An inquest also will be conducted later to determine the cause of the deaths, Schilling said. An inquest - a coroner's investigation of a death - is required under Illinois law in cases of deaths due to accident, suicide or homicide, he said.
Schmit said Caradori frequently told him he believed the Franklin investigation "could put the lives of some people in danger."
The committee hired Caradori last August. He videotaped interviews with three young people who said they were victims of sexual abuse. The committee turned over the tapes to State Patrol and FBI investigators.
Caradori has appeared as a witness before a Douglas County grand jury that is looking into allegations of child abuse stemming from the legislative committee's Franklin investigation.
Schmit told AP that Caradori recently had been trying to obtain pictures that some alleged victims said were taken of them during the time they were abused.
Schmit also said Caradori had been told that some people allegedly involved in child sexual abuse "had exposed some of the victims to satanic cultism. . . . He was working on places and times."
Schmit added: "Gary believed that something was going to come out of this investigation. He believed that the evidence was there to be developed and that things couldn't stay under cover forever."
Lincoln attorney John Stevens Berry, counsel to the legislative committee, said he felt both grief and anger at Caradori's death.
"It is particularly bitter," he said, "that Gary died at a time when he was being criticized by people who had absolutely no idea of the scope of his labors, of the time and effort he was putting in to see if we need new laws or if our laws need to be administered more properly."
Berry said it was impossible to determine how much investigative information was lost with Caradori when the plane went down.
"Despite the grief we all share, nevertheless, the work of the committee must continue," he said from Lincoln. Fears
A 23-year-old man - who last November gave Caradori a videotaped statement saying he had been sexually abused, but later recanted part of his account - said the investigator's death frightens him.
He said Caradori had warned him that people involved in the Franklin investigation could be in danger. The 23-year-old man, who hasn't been publicly identified, said he fears someone might try to harm him.
The 23-year-old, who said he had flown with Caradori several times during the investigation, said the investigator was meticulous about checking the plane before taking off.
Pamela Vuchetich of Lincoln, attorney for a 20-year-old man who also made sexual abuse allegations, said Caradori's death "sure puts some holes in the case. He was a major player in it. He had a lot of knowledge. That's been lost."
Trish Lanphier of Omaha, a founder of Concerned Parents, a group formed in the wake of the Franklin-related allegations, said Caradori had told her he was concerned that someone would tamper with his vehicles and plane.
She said Caradori told her two weeks ago that "he was selling all his cars because they had been tampered with. The tires had been flattened. . . . He told me was hiding his plane. He said it would be real easy to tamper with a plane."
State Sen. Jerry Warner of Waverly, a member of the Franklin committee, described Caradori as an "intense" and "tenacious" man for whom the investigative job "was more than just a business assignment."
Before he began his work for the committee, Caradori spent more than a decade as a private investigator based in Lincoln. One of his specialties was finding missing persons.
His travels took him across the country and to Europe. His resume says he traveled 150,000 miles a year. He flew his plane in his work.
He ranked as one of the more well-to-do private investigators in Nebraska, working for some large firms, say those familiar with his work.
Caradori became a Nebraska State Patrol trooper in December 1971. He quit the force in good standing in March 1977. His career as a trooper included some work with criminal investigations.
In 1977 he formed J-C Security and Detective Agency with a fellow former state trooper, Gregory Fraser. Caradori left that firm in 1981, and the next year it went into bankruptcy and was dissolved.
Caradori became the partner of Michael Weatherl in Caradori & Weatherl Investigations, based in Lincoln. Caradori headed the part of the company that provided private, uniformed security officers to businesses.
Caradori sold his 50 percent share to Weatherl early last year and formed his own company, Caracorp Inc. Ralston Graduate
Caradori attended St. Gerald Catholic School in Ralston before entering Ralston public schools, and he graduated from Ralston High School in 1967.
After high school, Caradori joined the U.S. Coast Guard and spent a year in Vietnam.
Survivors in addition to Caradori's wife, son and brother Scott are brothers Shane and Tom of Omaha and Dick of Omaha and Rockport, Mo., sister Peggy Matz of Ralston and his mother, Mary, of Ralston.