Top Gun: the tragedy that overshadowed the filming and the mystery that has been unsolved for 36 years

Top Gun: the tragedy that overshadowed the filming and the mystery that has been unsolved for 36 years

While Tom Cruise was received with honors at the Cannes Film Festival to present Top Gun: Maverickthe sequel to the successful 1986 film that launched him to stardom, several American media recalled in their pages and on their portals a tragic story that occurred during the filming of the original film: the mysterious death of Art Scholl, a professional pilot and stuntman.

The American edition of Sun presented an interview with Judy, the aviator’s wife, who provided details of what happened. The woman told her that Art, 53, ended up falling into the ocean after failing to recover from an inverted spin while filming scenes for top gun. The most disturbing detail of the story is that that death is almost traced to that of Gosse, one of the characters in the film.

The woman assured that the death of her husband was a severe blow to all those who knew him, due to his vast experience as a pilot and that he was very strict and careful when complying with security measures.. “It was a day that no one expected or anticipated,” she said. And he added: “He was very cautious and confident in the preparation, checking the equipment and making sure everything was in good condition. He took every precaution that he could, but still, it happened.”

Art Scholl’s fatal accident is almost identical to the one suffered by Goose, the character played by Anthony Edwards in the filmArchive

“He wasn’t arrogant about this kind of thing, he was always very aware of the element of danger and did everything he could to mitigate the risk,” he explained. Art, had worked on dozens of television shows and movies, including Indiana Jonesand had just started work on the film starring Cruise when he died.

In addition to the harsh blow and the macabre coincidence with an iconic scene from the film, Scholl’s family had to face another unhappy fact: neither the plane not even the body of the aviator could be recovered.

On the morning of September 16, 1985, Art and Judy left their home in San Bernardino, California early to arrive on time at the Air Force base north of Los Angeles. The director asked the pilot to film some shots that would later be projected on a green screen located behind the actors. One of the maneuvers he had to do was an inverted flat turn; a move that wasn’t too risky for a pilot of his experience.

“He got out and was doing several sequences of these flat turns, but he ran into another plane flying behind him. So, they told him to go back a couple of miles so that the shot would not be spoiled,” the woman recalled.

They lost sight of him and then he radioed to tell them he was starting an inverted flat turn. Half way through he radioed back saying ‘I have a problem’ and then about three seconds later he said ‘I have a real problem’”, he later recalled.

A scene from Top Gun
A scene from Top GunArchive

So, another plane went to the area where it was operating, but when they arrived it was gone; they only found debris and traces of oil floating in the water. At that time, Judy was waiting for him at the Rialto airport, near the base. Art was supposed to arrive at 5, but he never showed up. “They knew at the time what had happened, but they didn’t want to tell me over the phone,” he recalled.

When she saw a group of planes approaching, she expected her husband to land first, because he was piloting the fastest aircraft. “But the other guys landed and I couldn’t see Art’s plane anywhere. When they came out, I looked at them and knew something really bad had happened. I said, ‘Where’s Art?’ and they looked at me and said, ‘Come inside, we need to talk.’” There they only said: ‘He is not going to come home’. And that was it”, he recalled.

The jet Scholl was piloting was equipped with a parachute and life jacket. “For almost two decades he served as a flight instructor and taught hundreds of students that trick that took his life,” the wife explained. And she assured that it is still not known for sure what happened.

“The National Transportation Safety Board, which conducts the accident investigations, determined that it was a special disorientation. There has never been a definitive answer for a couple of reasons: neither the plane nor Art’s body were found. They were lost at sea and there were no recording devices like the ones airlines have,” Judy said. She stated, “It’s kind of like a guessing game, but it doesn’t change the end result, so I don’t spend time trying to figure it out.”

Top Gun: Maverick, sequel to the 1986 film, opens this Thursday in theaters
Top Gun: Maverick, sequel to the 1986 film, opens this Thursday in theaters

Despite the pain and heartbreak, the woman assured that her husband would be excited to see Top Gun: Maverick. “No doubt Art would enjoy the new movie. Aerial photography is a world unto itself and has changed drastically over the years: the cameras, the lighting, the sounds… Those are elements of a film that my husband would really love.”, he assured.

Judy indicated that sooner or later she will end up seeing the new film: “It won’t be painful for me to watch, my husband’s career was in the cinematographic field, so I understand his love for aviation and cinema. It is not painful because a long time has passed, the days and years soften the sad memories.


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