CRESTVIEW — Louis Richard has a lot to celebrate, including a loving wife, four adoring children and a miracle that let him enjoy them 40 years after surviving a jet crash.
On Oct. 12, Richard was surrounded by his wife, Mary, their grown children and nine friends to observe what the family calls "Crash Day.” It’s the anniversary of the Oct. 11, 1973, crash of his U.S. Air Force T37 jet trainer.
This year's observance marked the mishap's 40th anniversary.
A 16G crash
"My claim to fame: I am one of the few pilots who have more take-offs than landings," Richard jokes.
Richard and his copilot, Lt. Larry Dodson, were members of the 88th Flying Training Squadron of the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard (Texas) Air Force Base.
They were on a routine training flight when the plane went down in a field near the base. The plane crashed with a force of 16Gs, or 16 times the force of gravity.
The impact peeled back the front of the aircraft, making the pilots' compartment the leading edge as it plowed along 300 yards of Texas farmland. Both airmen survived.
"The Frederick (Texas) physician who pulled body bags from his vehicle ran up and asked, 'Where are the bodies?'" Richard said. "I replied, 'Here we are!'"
His daughter, Bridget Richard of Crestview, said a subsequent investigation couldn't find a cause for the accident.
"They (her father and Dodson) don't remember anything going wrong," Bridget Richard said. "It just happened and it was all a blur."
"The accident investigation board president stated that we were lucky to be alive," Louis Richard said. "I replied, 'No sir, we were fortunate. If we were lucky, we wouldn't have crashed.'"
The anniversary party is an annual event the family holds to celebrate their husband and father's survival and continued presence among them, Bridget Richard said.
It is also a time for her father to remember lost Air Force friends, she said.
"He gave a toast to all his comrades who didn't make it and died in airplane crashes," she said.
Louis Richard retired as a major at Hurlburt Field on Sept. 30, 1988, after 20 years in the Air Force.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.