Michael Scott Speicher
Captain, United States Navy
U.S. Department of Defense
Remains Identified as Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) has positively identified remains recovered in Iraq as those of Captain Michael Scott Speicher. Captain Speicher was shot down flying a combat mission in an F/A-18 Hornet over west-central Iraq on January 17th, 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Captain Speicher's family for the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country," said Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy. "I am also extremely grateful to all those who have worked so tirelessly over the last 18 years to bring Captain Speicher home."
“Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be,” said Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain Speicher and his family for the sacrifice they have made for our nation and the example of strength they have set for all of us.”
Acting on information provided by an Iraqi citizen in early July, US Marines stationed in Al Anbar Province went to a location in the desert which was believed to be the crash site of Captain Speicher’s jet. The Iraqi citizen stated he knew of two Iraqi citizens who recalled an American jet impacting the desert and the remains of the pilot being buried in the desert. One of these Iraqi citizens stated that they were present when Captain Speicher was found dead at the crash site by Bedouins and his remains buried. The Iraqi citizens led US Marines to the site who searched the area. Remains were recovered over several days during the past week and flown to Dover Air Force Base for scientific identification by the AFIP’s Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner.
The recovered remains include bones and multiple skeletal fragments. Positive identification was made by comparing Captain Speicher’s dental records with the jawbone recovered at the site. The teeth are a match, both visually and radiographically.
While dental records have confirmed the remains to be those of Captain Speicher, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology DNA Lab in Rockville, Maryland is running DNA tests on the remains recovered in Iraq and comparing them to DNA reference samples previously provided by family members. Results will take approximately 24 hours.
Contact: Navy Public Affairs (703) 697-5342.
3 August 2009:
The Navy awaited DNA test results Monday on the skeletal remains identified through dental records as those of pilot Michael "Scott" Speicher, who was called the first casualty of the 1991 Gulf War.
The results, due later this week, are not expected to completely solve the mystery of how Speicher died on the first night of the war 18 years ago. The remains are small and fragmentary and are not expected to yield a definite cause of death.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the remains will be turned over to Speicher's family after tests are complete.
For nearly two decades, Speicher's family, from outside Jacksonville, Fla., pressured the Defense Department to find an answer. Finally, the Pentagon announced Sunday that his remains had been found.
Cindy Laquidara, the family's attorney, said the family is dealing with grief and what she called a lack of information. She said family members want to talk to the Defense Department before commenting.
Laquidara said the family disputes the presumption that Speicher died while ejecting or in the crash.
"All the information we have received over the past 15 years is contrary to that. The fact that he ejected — the determination he ejected — there is a lot of information that conflicted with that."
The family has asked for a meeting but Laquidara said no time or place has been set.
The family has not announced plans for funeral or memorial services. Speicher already has a tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery.
Shot down over west-central Iraq on a combat mission on Jan. 17, 1991, Speicher was declared killed by the Pentagon hours later. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney went on television and announced the U.S. had suffered its first casualty of the war.
But 10 years later, the Navy changed his status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that Speicher had died. In October 2002, the Navy switched his status to "missing/captured," although it has never said what evidence it had that he ever was in captivity. More reviews followed, without definitive answers.
Over the years, critics contended the Navy had not done enough, particularly right after the crash, to search for the 33-year-old Speicher.
Officials said Sunday that they got new information last month from an Iraqi, who helped lead Marines to two others who identified the burial site in the western desert.
The military recovered bones and multiple skeletal fragments and Speicher was positively identified by matching a jawbone and dental records.
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Md., is running DNA tests on the remains and comparing them with DNA reference samples from family members.
4 Augut 2009:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The family of Michael "Scott" Speicher received the first of a series of top-secret briefings Tuesday about the discovery of his remains in Iraq, 18 years after his Navy plane was shot down on the first night of the 1991 Gulf War, their attorney said.
Cindy Laquidara, an attorney representing the family, also announced Tuesday that the Navy pilot would be laid to rest in the Jacksonville area, where he lived with his wife and two young children before his plane went down while on a combat mission on Jan. 17, 1991. He has been called the first casualty of that war.
"This was Scott's express wish," Laquidara said, adding the family is planning a public and private services. She said a service would not be held until at least next week because DNA tests on the remains recovered from a grave in Iraq are still being tested. His body was initially identified through dental records.
Family members spent several hours with Defense Intelligence Agency officials Tuesday, hearing about the recovery of the pilot's body by a group of Marines who received a tip from an Iraqi about the location of a grave.
"We are still reconciling data about what happened with Scott," she said. "We have finished reviewing some of the information gathered. We can't close this chapter until we can tie this up."
She said the family is still trying to figure out how, when and where Speicher died. They have asked for more briefings with specific officials.
The family is considering both the new Veteran's Cemetery or a large public cemetery, Laquidara said. A marker with his name was placed in Arlington National Cemetery several years ago.
Officials don't expect to completely solve the mystery of how Speicher died because the remains are only small fragments.
For nearly two decades, Speicher's family, from outside Jacksonville, Fla., pressured the Defense Department to find the missing pilot. Finally, the Pentagon announced Sunday that his remains had been discovered.
Defense officials declared Speicher killed in action hours after his plane was shot down over west-central Iraq. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney announced on television that Speicher was the first casualty of the Gulf War.
However, Speicher's family disputes the presumption the pilot died while ejecting or in the crash, the attorney said.
Ten years after the crash, the Navy changed Speicher's status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that Speicher had died. In October 2002, the Navy switched his status to "missing/captured," although it has never said what evidence it had that he may have been in captivity.
Over the years, critics contended the Navy had not done enough, particularly right after the crash, to search for the 33-year-old pilot.
The military recovered bones and multiple skeletal fragments, and Speicher was identified by matching a jawbone and dental records.
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in
Rockville, Md., is running DNA tests on the remains and comparing them
with DNA reference samples from family members.
7 August 2007:
The remains of Navy Capt. Scott Speicher will return to Jacksonville next week, with a public acknowledgment planned before a private family ceremony.
A procession carrying Speicher's body will wind its way through the city Friday, passing by Nathan B. Forrest High School — from which he graduated — and Cecil Field, from where he left for his final flight.
Speicher was shot down over Iraq in 1991 on the first day of Operation Desert Storm. He remained missing until last week, where a body identified as his was found buried in the desert.
Those remains will return home about 9 a.m. Friday, flown into Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
The procession will first pass by Veterans Memorial Wall on Adams Street, although it will not stop there.
As the hearse passes, it will receive a rifle salute and taps will be played, said Bob Buehn, who handles military affairs for the city.
Details as to the exact route the procession will take and other events planned have not yet been finalized. The group Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher is planning on a public memorial gathering but has not yet finalized details.
Following the procession, Speicher's remains will be buried at Jacksonville Memorial Gardens in Orange Park during a private funeral ceremony.
"This is in accordance with his personal wishes," family attorney Cindy Laquidara said about the cemetery selection. "He wanted to be buried in Jacksonville."
A tombstone was erected at Arlington National
Cemetery for the downed pilot in 1996, several years before his status
was changed from killed in action to missing in action.
JACKSONVILLE, Florida – The remains of Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher returned to his Florida home on Thursday, 18 years after his FA-18 Hornet was shot down on the first night of the 1991 Gulf War.
Speicher's remains arrived at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station around 3 p.m It was to remain at the All Saints Chapel on the base overnight.
Speicher's widow and his children placed roses on his flag-draped casket before it was loaded into a hearse. Sailors stood at attention and lined the runway as the hearse passed.
Buddy Harris, who was Speicher's best friend and who later married his widow, Joanne, accompanied the casket on the flight from Dover, Delaware, to Florida.
"This is the ultimate definition of bittersweet. We got Scott home and that was the ultimate goal," Harris said outside the base chapel as mourners slowly passed by the casket.
Two sailors, dressed in white, stood at each end of the casket, which was adorned with several roses and a baseball cap from the USS Saratoga. Speicher made his last flight from the Saratoga when his plane became the first to be shot down in the Gulf War.
"As sad as we are at the loss of Captain Speicher, I think we should all be humbled with the service and sacrifice he and his family have shown our nation," said Rear Admiral Tim Alexander, commander for Navy Region Southeast, at the airfield.
Linda Kupfer, who said she was a guidance counselor to Speicher's children at a public school, was outside the chapel.
"I am glad this honor has been given to him. It's about time," she said.
A motorcade will wind through Jacksonville Friday, traveling slowly by significant places in Speicher's life.
The hearse will go first to the Memorial Wall outside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, where the names of Jacksonville's war dead are engraved on a black marble memorial.
It will also drive past Lake Shore United Methodist Church, where he taught Sunday school, followed by Forrest High School, and Cecil Field, where his squadron was stationed.
His final resting place will be Jacksonville Memory Gardens, where his family will have a private ceremony.
Speicher was a native of the Kansas City area and moved to Florida when he was a teenager.
He graduated from Florida State University in 1980 with a business administration degree. The school's $1.2 million Scott Speicher Tennis Complex was dedicated in 1993.
Defense officials originally declared Speicher killed in action hours after his plane was shot down over west-central Iraq. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney announced on television that Speicher was the first casualty of the Gulf War.
Ten years after the crash, the Navy changed Speicher's status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that Speicher had died. In October 2002, the Navy switched his status to "missing/captured," although it has never explained why.
Over the years, critics said the Navy had not done enough, particularly right after the crash, to search for the 33-year-old pilot.
The military recovered bones and multiple skeletal fragments recently, and Speicher was identified by matching a jawbone and dental records and later by DNA reference samples from family members.
From Contemporary Press Reports:
Family racked by riddle of lost US pilot
By: Bob Graham, Jacksonville, Florida
When Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher’s FA/18 Hornet vanished from the radar screens over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war, everyone — including his family — accepted that he had been killed by a ground-to-air missile.
His widow, Joanne, was left to comfort their two young children. She in turn was consoled by his best friend and fellow navy pilot, Buddy Harris. They married 18 months later and had two children of their own.
Then evidence began to emerge that Speicher may have survived and become a prisoner of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Throughout the build-up to last year’s war and in the months after, Harris flew to the Pentagon for secret briefings on the search for Speicher, never knowing whether the friend whose place he had taken as husband and father would return to reclaim it.
The Sunday Times has obtained details of the search and has interviewed witnesses who claim Speicher did indeed survive. They say the pilot was taken to a house near the spot where his jet crashed in the desert west of Baghdad and then handed over to Saddam’s security police.
A team of American experts has scoured prisons in and around the Iraqi capital. It discovered Speicher’s initials on a cell wall and documents indicating that at one stage he was injured. But it has heard conflicting accounts about his ultimate fate.
The Americans were told by one source that he had been executed years ago; by another that he was still being held prisoner by one of Saddam’s most feared lieutenants after the Washington-led invasion.
In recent days the Pentagon has indicated that a lack of any conclusive evidence has convinced officials that Speicher is dead. His family nevertheless refuses to give up hope.
They claim he was abandoned in 1991 when Dick Cheney, then defence secretary and now vice-president, announced his death, and is being abandoned again because to admit mistakes would be difficult in the run-up to the presidential election. Harris, who married Speicher’s widow only to be told that he might not be dead after all, says he has hoped all along that his friend would return home safely, whatever the impact on his family.
“We will throw a huge welcome home party,” he said. “Then we will deal with whatever comes next in an adult and private manner.”
Harris, 44, added: “I want to be able to look him in the eye and say, ‘This is what I did, this is why I did it’. And I can’t imagine him being displeased.”
When Speicher’s aircraft vanished he left behind Joanne, his college sweetheart, Megan, three, and one-year-old Michael.
“I knew Joanne before she and Scott got married,” Harris said. “She was like a sister. We had a lot of fun together. We were all pretty close. Scott was the leader of his class, a fun-loving, nice guy, always with a smile on his face. We had that connection between us.”
Speicher became a national hero when, in May 1991, a memorial stone was erected in Arlington national cemetery in Washington.
It was less than a year after marrying Joanne that Harris, who was working at the Pentagon, heard that wreckage from the jet had been found intact. He decided to keep the news from his wife, uncertain how it would affect their marriage.
The Pentagon considered mounting a special
forces operation to rescue Speicher if he could be located.
American officials approached the International Committee of the Red Cross, which obtained permission to search the crash site. It found the cockpit canopy and a flight suit with the legs cut open. There were no signs of blood.
Harris knew he had to tell Joanne. “Up to that point, there was just no sense in making her more miserable over possibilities,” he said.
She took it well, he explained, but added: “It wasn’t a happy environment for a while. I mean, you can just imagine trying to give that kind of information to your wife.”
Stories began to trickle in from Iraqi defectors about an American pilot being held in Iraq. Then in 1998 an Iranian pilot, Hossein Lashgari, was released after being held for 17 years by the Iraqis. Iran had long given him up for dead.
By this time Congress had started asking questions about Speicher. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence, was given a private briefing and went public with his outrage.
“We have quite a few people that dropped the ball,” he admitted. “Quite frankly, I think some people ought to be court martialed.”
In 2001 Richard Danzig, the navy secretary, changed Speicher’s status from killed in action to missing in action, the first formal acknowledgment that he might have survived. He was promoted to captain and salary payments to his family resumed.
In 2002 the navy reclassified him as missing in action, captured. In the run-up to last year’s invasion, he was declared a prisoner of war.
“I think it is very likely that he could be alive,” Roberts said. “And that makes you stop and think that for 12 years, here is a young man who has gone to bed every night or awakened every morning wondering, ‘When is my country going to come get me?’ ”
Cindy Laquidara, the Speichers’ lawyer, spoke to an Iraqi defector who reported seeing a captive American pilot. At least two other defectors told US intelligence they were aware of Speicher’s existence. A small team attached to the US Marines who entered Baghdad 18 months ago was assigned to find him.
For two days six experts concentrated the search on Hakimiyah prison, where they discovered the initials “MSS” scratched into a cell wall. They also found documents indicating he had been hurt in captivity and had been moved between 18 locations around the country.
There were unverified reports that Speicher had been executed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam’s closest aides. A body, said to have 30 bullet holes, was supposedly buried in one of two possible locations, although extensive searches failed to uncover it.
However, it was also claimed that General Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali”, kept Speicher with him following the war. Al-Majid was captured but has refused to talk about Speicher.
The Iraq Survey Group looking for weapons of mass destruction also contained a team of seven intelligence experts known as Task Force Speicher whose sole job was to hunt for him.
A report by the group revealed that a defector from Saddam’s Special Security Organisation had provided names of witnesses who had seen or known of Speicher in captivity.
In Washington, another 15 experts from the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency were dedicated to finding him. A search team that tried to reach the crash site two months after the fall of Baghdad was foiled by attacks from insurgents.
However, several witnesses told The Sunday Times they remembered Speicher’s jet. Mashel Shehan al-Asafe, 61, a sheep merchant, said: “Two shepherds who were close to the place where the aircraft crashed helped him. They brought him to my house and I gave him water and some food.
“When we spoke to him it was with our hands, because we could not understand his words. I remember his name and it was Speicher, as you say.”
Speicher was taken by car to the nearest large town of Hit, west of Ramadi, where he was handed to police. Al-Asafe added: “He was injured and he was treated by a medical doctor in Ramadi.”
All the developments in the official hunt have been disclosed to Harris at his Pentagon briefings. Some information is difficult to share with Joanne and the children, he said.
“There are moments when we think we’re on the verge of bringing Scott home,” he explained. “But because it is an emotional rollercoaster and much of it doesn’t pan out, I sit and absorb it all. If I passed it all on to the family we would all be basket cases.”
Harris believes there is no doubt Speicher was in captivity. “I’ve spoken with the president several times about this and I’ve been assured by him he will never give up looking for Scott. He will make sure this is resolved and he has given me his word and I’m going to hold him to that.”
Friends of Joanne say she has dealt with the news of her husband by “putting it all into a compartment that she refuses to open."
“She has moved on and at times says she doesn’t want to look back,” said a close friend. “It makes her sound uncaring and she’s not but she’s had to move on with her life.”
Harris, on the other hand, remains preoccupied
with the search. “I gotta find out the truth,” he said. “This is important,
the most important thing in my life."
U.S. TEAM CONCLUDES NAVY PILOT DIED IN GULF
Members of the U.S. team investigating the fate of Captain Scott Speicher have concluded that the Navy fighter pilot is dead, according to sources close to the mission.
But his remains have not been found. A promising lead to finally resolving the matter vanished recently when buried remains thought to be Captain Speicher's turned out not to be of the downed pilot.
The sources said Army Major General Keith Dayton, the former director of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), has told officials in recent days that investigators now believe the pilot shot down in 1991 over Iraq is not alive.
The conclusion is based largely on the fact that all leads to Capt. Speicher's whereabouts have turned up no evidence he is alive.
"What I have heard [General Dayton] say is there is no evidence he was ever in captivity," said a senior defense official.
ISG officials now believe Captain Speicher either died in the crash or shortly thereafter in Iraq's vast western desert, a second official said.
Captain Speicher's F-18 Hornet was shot down on the first night of Operation Desert Storm on January 17, 1991. he canopy on his crashed jet was photographed some distance from the crash site west of Baghdad, giving rise to hope that he had ejected and was alive.
Later, an Iraqi defector claimed to have seen him alive, prompting the Navy to change his status from killed in action to missing-captured.
But the ISG's investigation since the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 has failed to find any evidence he is alive. Two once-promising tips failed to resolve the matter.
In one case, Bedouin tribesmen said they believed Captain Speicher was buried near the crash site.
"There are Iraqis who believe he died in the desert," said the defense official.
The ISG went to the site and unearthed remains, heightening hopes that the Speicher mystery had finally been solved. The remains were sent to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, home to a military mortuary. But a DNA examination determined the body was not Captain Speicher's, officials say.
In a second lead, a Bedouin claimed to have the pilot's handgun and was willing to turn it in. But the Bedouin never appeared with the gun. Investigators are speculating that the tribesman may have been threatened by Iraqi insurgents or foreign fighters and thus disappeared.
Navy Secretary Gordon England changed Captain Speicher's status to missing-captured, and would be the official who would decide whether to change it back to killed in action.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is expected to deliver a report on the pilot's status to Mr. England in the coming months, after the ISG files its assessment.
When Mr. England changed the status to "missing-captured" in October 2002, he said in a memo:
"While the information available to me now does not prove definitively that Captain Speicher is alive and in Iraqi custody, I am personally convinced the Iraqis seized him sometime after his plane went down."
The Washington Times previously reported on a secret DIA written report that cast doubt on the truthfulness of the defector who claimed to have seen Captain Speicher alive in 1998.
The report refers to defector No. 2314 who had worked in Saddam Hussein's Special Security Organization (SSO), the branch that enforced loyalty to the Ba'ath Party.
Labeled "secret - no foreign," the report states that the military "has debriefed several doctors whom 2314 indicated should have knowledge of Speicher. All denied having any knowledge. Two have passed a polygraph exam. ... None of the information provided by 2314 has proven accurate."
The June 23, 2003, DIA report adds that the military "has searched every known location associated with Speicher. Other than at Hakimiyah prison, where U.S. forces found the initials 'MSS' carved in a cell wall, no significant evidence of his status has been discovered."
The Iraq Survey Group has devoted a number of
personnel to the Speicher search. But its main goal is to find out what
happened to Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA -- For the first time since Captain Scott Speicher disappeared into the desert night, we learn what it's like for his family and closest friend. Buddy Harris spoke exclusively with First Coast News, the first local station to be granted an interview in 13 years.
It is a story the First Coast has come to know well. A young handsome father goes to war for his country. "Spike" as Speicher was called by his fellow pilots was one of the first off the U.S.S. Saratoga the opening night of the war.
In the early morning hours of January 17, 1991, Speicher took off to drop bombs over Iraq. He would never make it back. Initial reports said his plane was hit by enemy fire and exploded in mid-air. Joanne Speicher was told her husband was the first casualty of the Gulf War.
In the years that followed there would be questions, rumors and denial about exactly what happened to Scott and whether the military made any efforts to find him. Buddy Harris was right in the middle of the Speicher tragedy.
During the years that followed the friendship he shared with Joanne Speicher would turn into something more serious. Both in mourning they found comfort in each others pain and memories. They would eventually marry.
Harris doesn't want that relationship to distract the media or military from continuing to focus on the search for Speicher. Harris even became a part of the internal investigation team formed to look into the increasing inquiries about Speicher's fate.
To this day Harris has a high security clearance which gives him access to confidential information. He travels weekly to Washington for briefings from a newly formed investigative team whose main goal is to coordinate with ground troops in Iraq dedicated to tracking down Speicher's whereabouts.
"The group that is in D.C. now was formed, and they are a bipartisan group and various factions of the military and the CIA is part of this organization, which was created purely because of the Scott Speicher situation. Because after Vietnam they said it could never happen again."
Some of what Harris learns in Washington is often difficult to share with Joanne and the kids.
As with the horror stories told by P.O.W.'s from Vietnam, some of what he learns he keeps to himself. He says when he comes home and he's quiet they've learned to give him some time and space. "Because it is an emotional roller coaster and much of it doesn't pan out and if I sat and went home and said everything that we got we would be basket cases."
What Harris can share with them is the government's new resolve to get to the bottom of what happened to Speicher. A commitment Harris says he's worked hard to secure. He says he can't focus on the years it took to finally get the investigation a high priority.
"If you sit back and dwell on the things that went wrong and the mistakes that were made, sure that will eat at you and tear you up so I don't even go there. We have to focus, I can't focus on both so we're focusing on our main goal and our main goal is Scott's repatriation."
I asked him about the latest on the search for Scott, and the family's reaction to the initials found in a Baghdad prison cell. Harris said they believed they were left by Scott and he added that wasn't the only sign of Scott investigators found. "We have a lot of other information that is definitive."
"We know he was in captivity, there's no doubt and a lot of it's classified and a lot of it isn't put out for a lot of reasons." Harris says because of that the family was not discouraged when no DNA could be connected between the prison cell and Speicher. "We knew it had been several years and we knew it had been painted several times so the possibility of a DNA match was very limited."
That's the kind of filter the family has to have in order to handle all the ups and downs of the last 13 years. Harris said they can't let anything excite them too much or disappoint them too much either. He says what they focus on is making sure that they do everything they can to get to the bottom of what happened. So if Scott comes home they can say they did everything in their power to find him.
The challenge for them privately as a family, is trying to be the driving force in this international investigation all while trying to live a normal life. He says so far they've been able to do that.
"My wife and my kids are better than I could have dreamed. They are absolutely wonderful and they trust me explicitly in taking care of this. They are behind me a 100-percent and they know that there is the sacrifice of my time I'm gone a whole lot. They fully understand. They back me, they support me. I'll just say I couldn't' ask for a better wife and kids. They are great."
Joanne has shied away from the camera because Buddy says, she doesn't want to be recognized in the grocery store or while taking the kids to soccer practice. She doesn't want to have to field questions from people she doesn't know. But that doesn't mean the family isn't tremendously grateful for the support they've received.
Harris mentions in particular the group "Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher" and Jacksonville attorney Cindy Laquidara. "We have Cindy Laquidara right here in Jacksonville, Florida who has dazzled all of them with her initiative and her vitality. Thank God she is on our side."
Finally, Harris says when and if Speicher comes home they will throw a huge welcome home party. Then they will deal with whatever comes next. What comes next Harris says is a private family matter.
Until then, the focus is and will be to find Scott, and with the word of the President, Harris is confident it's just a matter of time.
"I've been assured by President Bush whole heartedly
that he will never give up. He will make sure this is resolved and he has
given me his word and I'm going to hold him to that."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. Military search crews have returned to the crash site where Navy pilot Scott Speicher's jet crashed 13 years ago, while captured Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein, are being questioned about the fate of the Jacksonville fighter pilot.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who has made it a personal mission to get answers for Speicher's family and friends, said crews are actively looking for the pilot, whose plane went down on Jan. 13, 1991, in Iraq, about 100 miles north of the Saudi Arabian border.
Speicher's FA-18 Hornet was the first plane shot down over Iraq in the first Gulf War.
"I am convinced they are doing everything they can," Nelson said. "But I have to stay on the Pentagon and the administration to make sure it remains a priority with them."
Navy officials said crews have checked more than 50 sites, including hospitals, prisons, security archives, homes and the original site where the aircraft crashed, said Lt. Mike Kafka, a Navy spokesman. "The Navy remains extremely interested in information regarding Capt. Speicher."
Recently, crews revisited the crash site, where Speicher's plane had pancaked in the desert, for the first time since 1995. At that time they found the canopy, wings, unexploded ordnance, but the cockpit was missing.
Nelson said he could not comment on what, if anything, was found in the second search. Earlier, Donald Black, a spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the search team was hoping to find Bedouin tribesmen who might have witnessed the crash.
The current search for information about Speicher's fate has been complicated by the security situation in Iraq, Nelson said. "They have to make sure they don't get ambushed."
Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said he was heartened when he heard Hussein and other high level Iraqi officials had been questioned about Speicher. Kafka said all detained officials and hundreds of lower-level officials, civilians, defectors and refugees have been questioned and will continue to be questioned.
"Sooner or later, somebody is going to talk," said Nelson, who believes Speicher could still be alive. "I hope so. With each passing day, it diminishes that possibility."
Kafka said the search has yielded thousands of documents from the Iraqi intelligence and security services that are being examined for evidence about Speicher.
Over the years, various theories have been floated about what actually happened in the darkness over Iraq.
Some believe Speicher was killed when a surface-to-air missile knocked his jet fighter from the sky on the first night of the first Gulf War. There was evidence that he ejected from his damaged aircraft.
Amy Waters Yarsinske, author of "No One Left Behind. The Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher Story," believes Speicher could still be alive in Iraq. She believes Bedouins may have rescued Speicher and cared for him for four years, until Hussein's agents spotted them with Speicher. According to her book, sources told her that Speicher was taken away and every man, woman and child in the tribe were executed.
A report to the Senate Intelligence Committee said, "We assess Lt. Cmdr. Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad."
Unless Speicher or other evidence are found in Iraq, the answers may never be known.
Speicher's cousin, Teresa Engstrom, of Minneapolis said in an e-mail, "We hold out hope that Scott is still alive. Failing that, I would hope that the family and all those wonderful supporters can at least know what happened."
"When Saddam was captured, we were so encouraged that at least the question about Scott was asked. I am still hoping that an answer will be forthcoming."
Craig Bertolett, Speicher's squadron mate, who now lives in Vienna, Va., said he believes Speicher survived the shoot down.
"While I concede there is a remote possibility that Scott survived and is still alive, the possibility still exists. So long as that possibility exists, we should pursue his repatriation with the utmost voracity," Bertolett said.
Yarsinske, a former reserve Navy intelligence officer, said she's heartened by efforts to find him. She became interested in the Speicher case while working on a series of stories about him for the Virginia Pilot.
Yarsinske said there are reasons Hussein would not want to tell U.S. investigators what he knows about Speicher. "He's a living war crime," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Norfolk, Va.
Speicher, who was 33 when he was shot down, was first declared missing in action. Later his status was changed to killed in action. A marker was placed on an empty grave at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2002, his status was changed to missing-captured.
In the past 13 years, Speicher's rank has been increased from lieutenant commander to captain. His wife, Joanne, has remarried and his children are now teenagers. They live in the Jacksonville area.
Yarsinske said she hopes Speicher's case will be resolved for the sake of his family and supporters. Search crews "are going to go the extra mile," she said. "They wouldn't be pressing this hard if he was dead."
On the Net:
26 April 2003:
Scott Speicher, the U.S. Navy pilot who was shot down over Iraq the first night of the first Gulf War may still be alive KMBC's Jeremy Hubbard reported.
Speicher has reportedly been seen in Baghdad very recently, Hubbard said. Some believe the Navy pilot may be in the custody of Saddam Hussein.
Jim Stafford was a good friend of Speicher's. The two men met in high school and stayed in touch after Speicher flew off to war.
"I opened my mailbox and I had a postcard that Scott had mailed on the 29th day of December," Stafford said. "You know, Scott was pronounced dead the next day."
For years, Speicher's family and friends believed the pilot was dead. The military had classified him as killed in action. A headstone that bears Speicher's name was placed at Arlington National Cemetery.
But years later, the wreckage of Speicher's fighter jet was found in the Iraqi desert. The ejection seat had been used. It was found miles away, but human remains were not recovered. Suddenly it was clear that Speicher had survived the crash, Hubbard said.
Sen. Pat Roberts has been trying to find out what happened to Speicher since that discovery. Roberts says that Speicher is still unaccounted for, in part because Pentagon officials did not adequately investigate the crash, Hubbard reported.
Roberts also blames Saddam's military.
"They indicated he (Speicher) was eaten by wolves, then they sent back remains that weren't Scott's. What kind of a regime does that?" Roberts said.
Years went by without any answers. Suddenly, new intelligence indicated that a man believed to be Speicher was seen alive in Iraq, Hubbard reported.
For the first time in military history, the Pentagon made an unprecedented change -- moving Speicher from the killed in action list, to missing in action, and then to the missing/captured list.
Speicher wasn't dead to them anymore. Now, he was a prisoner of war.
And that momentum has grown in the last six months. New intelligence reports sightings of Speicher. Now Roberts believes that it's not only possible Speicher is alive, but it may be a probability, Hubbard reported.
Armed with that new intelligence, old friends like Stafford are leading the effort to free Speicher.
Those friends meet monthly at Speicher's old high school in Jacksonville, Florida. They are working together to free Speicher.
"At our first press conference we had, we were contacted and told, in no uncertain terms, Scott is still alive and being held in Baghdad," Stafford said.
The group's sources include the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies.
Just before the United States went to war with Iraq for a second time, the group says an informant reported seeing Speicher alive in Baghdad, perhaps being moved from prison to prison so he wouldn't be found by U.S. troops.
Other evidence that the group presents includes the testimony of an Iraqi defector, who said he picked up an American pilot just after the first Gulf War began who was still wearing his flight suit. The defector said he turned the pilot over to the Iraqi military.
When asked to identify that pilot from a lineup, the defector pointed to a photograph of Speicher.
Hubbard reported that the informant was given several lie-detector tests, which he passed. Intelligence officials believe the man was probably telling the truth, Hubbard said.
The group has also heard intelligence reports of an Iraqi doctor who says he performed a physical on Speicher. Another Iraqi man claims to have seen the American pilot's name on a file he uncovered as he tried to hide records from UN weapons inspectors, Hubbard said.
The group says there are dozens of similar reports -- some of which are credible, and some of which are not.
But the accumulation of evidence is enough to give Roberts hope.
"My heart tells me he's alive. My head says, it'd be a miracle. But miracles happen," Roberts said.
That miracle is what Speicher's old friends continue to pray for, Hubbard said. The group has waited 12 years to learn the pilot's fate. Now, they believe the wait won't be much longer.
A team of military specialists remains in Iraq,
continuing their search for Speicher.
20 April 2003:
Search continues for missing pilot from first gulf war
JACKSONVILLE, Florida -They said goodbye to him nearly 12 years ago at Cecil Field, a naval air station that was Scott Speicher's home base.
Hundreds came to the funeral -- a funeral without a body. The grieving widow, Joanne, had married him at this same place 7 1/2 years before. His fellow pilots were at the funeral, as were his two small children, his father and his friends.
Speicher -- a Kansas City native whose family moved to Florida when he was 15 -- was the first U.S. serviceman killed in the gulf war, the story went. He was a Navy pilot shot down on the first night of the attack, his F-18 crashing into the Iraqi desert below. It was January 17, 1991.
But more than a decade later, as Americans are buoyed by the televised images of prisoners of war safely rescued in another Iraqi war, a special joint unit from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency is trying to solve the mystery of Scott Speicher.
In January 2001, prompted by an accumulation of evidence acquired over several years, the Navy took the extraordinary step of reclassifying Speicher as "missing in action." Last October, his status was further changed to "missing/captured." There was no evidence that Speicher was dead, the Navy had determined, and there was enough evidence to indicate that he could still be alive, a prisoner of war.
"The objective is to find out whatever we can about what happened to him," said a U.S. official with knowledge of the mission, which also involves recovering information on Kuwaiti soldiers missing since the first gulf war. "We think the Iraqi government knows what happened. Our goal is to find out precisely what they know."
These days have blurred into one long moment of truth for those who have loved, mourned and hoped for Speicher for 12 years: his family, which pushed the government to reassess Speicher's case; his high school friends, who formed the Free Scott Speicher association last spring; his fellow pilots, who are angry that no rescue mission ever took place, that their military never went looking for the guy they knew as Spike (the family name is pronounced "Spiker").
"I think that there will be an accounting for him, whatever it is, in the very near future," said Bob Stumpf, a retired Navy officer who flew with Speicher the night of the crash and saw the flash in the sky when his plane was hit. "There's no doubt in my mind that we'll know, finally, what his fate is."
Life goes on
He would be 44 now. His children, babies when he shipped out in August 1990, are now teen-agers. Joanne remarried -- when everyone still thought that Scott Speicher was dead -- and her new husband has been leading the push to find out what happened to him.
His father has died. At their church, red pansies and white snapdragons bloom at the base of a memorial to Scott Speicher. At Arlington National Cemetery, there is a marker with his name.
Since his file has been reopened he has been promoted twice, and he is now a Captain.
He is remembered, though, as he was 12 years ago. Speicher went to his high school reunion three days before he left for the gulf. He was, friends say, the envy of the class: a handsome, talented pilot with a beautiful wife and children.
Now those same friends wait and hope. They all grew up in Jacksonville, in a part of town thick with military families. They started the organization after hearing more and more news reports suggesting that Speicher may not have died, news reports that dominated class reunion discussions. They staged rallies, marched on Washington and contacted news media.
"There are only two scenarios, and regardless we'll know what happened," said Jim Stafford, a high school friend who still has the postcard Speicher sent him a few days before his plane went down. "But if we don't get Scott Speicher back alive, it's a tragedy."
It may seem somewhat incredible that Saddam Hussein would have had an American pilot in captivity, tell almost no one, hold him -- and not kill him -- for years.
But that is exactly what he has done in the past. In April 1998, as part of an exchange of prisoners between Iran and Iraq, Hussein released an Iranian pilot, Hussein Raza Yashkuri, who had been captured 18 years before, at the start of the Iran-Iraq war.
"If you know Scott, you can't give up," Stafford said. "We may not get the answer we want, but we're not going to stop until we get one."
He wasn't supposed to go. Not on that first mission, not that first night. Speicher was the spare, the guy who went into action only if something went wrong with one of the other planes.
He went to his commander and begged. He was persuasive.
"The last time I saw Spike, he was manning up for the flight in which he was lost," Navy Captain Mark I. Fox wrote in a recent e-mail from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation. Fox headed to the gulf, to this war, still holding onto memories of his friend, the one he last saw on that fateful night in 1991.
"He had gone out of his way to fly on that particular strike."
There were two formations of five planes each involved in the mission. Stumpf was in Speicher's sister squadron. He remembers being on his way to his target, the sky lighting up with surface-to-air missiles.
"Then there was one flash that appeared to be brighter," Stumpf said. "It sort of lit up everything."
Then it sank to the desert floor.
Stumpf didn't know what it was. But when he got back to the USS Saratoga, his carrier, he heard that Speicher was missing.
"At that point, I assumed he was on the ground, that he ejected, and he was either being rescued or in the process of evading the enemy while waiting to be rescued," Stumpf said.
Within 24 hours, his commander was asking for his coordinates when he saw the flash. They were trying to pinpoint where to look for Speicher. Most pilots who eject from that type of plane survive.
"They're supposed to go," Stumpf said. "They should have gone."
It is, after all, the military code: No one gets left behind.
Only it isn't that simple. After the Vietnam War, when there were so many losses on search-and-rescue missions, the military had become much more careful. On that night, the commander said, he had to weigh a number of factors -- above all, the prospects of a successful mission against the level of risk to the officers who would be deployed.
There was no communication from Speicher, no radio contact. It was later determined that the type of radio he had been issued did not fit into his flight suit pocket and probably would have been lost in ejection.
There were no signs of light as search planes flew over the area. Geographic locators were iffy -- they had information from Stumpf and other pilots but couldn't spot any wreckage on the ground. Speicher's wingman reported he had not seen an ejection before the plane was hit.
Admiral Stan Arthur had to make the call.
"It's one of those decisions where you don't like to do it, you don't want to do it, but it's the right decision," Arthur said. "And even today you know it's the right decision. But knowing what you know now, it just makes it all the tougher to realize that everything wasn't exactly as we thought. Or doesn't appear to be."
And so he too waits and hopes. And remembers.
"Never a day goes by," he said, his voice heavy.
Joanne had met Scott at Florida State University, and had married him in 1983. When his plane went down, she was a 31-year-old mother of two: Michael, 3, and Meghan, 1.
It was January 18, 1991, one day after the war began, when Joanne heard the knock on the door. It was an officer, bearing news. A week later, a telegram arrived: "It is with much regret that I confirm the missing-in-action status of your husband, Lieutenant Michael Scott Speicher."
By then, the words "missing in action" held little hope. He was dead. The government had said so. Joanne had questions about what exactly had happened to him, but she had told her children that Daddy wasn't coming home.
When the war ended and the POWs were repatriated, Speicher was not among them. The government didn't ask for him; it asked for remains. The ones the Iraqis turned over, officials later learned, did not match Speicher's DNA. On May 22, 1991, after an official review of evidence then available, the Navy declared Speicher "killed in action, body not recovered."
That summer, in the only public interview she has given on the subject, Joanne told Ladies Home Journal that she thought her husband had died that night, when his plane exploded in midair. Believing that made it possible for her to go on.
"I'm at peace," she told the magazine in the June 1991 issue. "I feel like it's over and he is in a better place. I would have been angry if he died in a car crash. This was his life, and Scott wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
Over time, she fell in love again.
His name was Albert Harris, known as Buddy. He had been Scott's closest friend, a fellow Navy pilot. Devastated by Speicher's death, Harris began spending more time with the Speicher children. And, as he told NBC's Tom Brokaw in an interview in February, "the light kind of came on around the same time as to the possibilities."
They married on July 4, 1992, 18 months after Speicher's plane went down. Together they had two children, and all four siblings went by the last name Speicher-Harris. They moved into a new home. They were their own family now.
Then came word of intelligence reports casting doubt on Speicher's death. It was terribly awkward. But, as Harris has said publicly a few times, they both thought they needed to do everything possible to find answers.
There was a need to put public pressure on the government to resolve the situation, and to do that they needed to publicize Speicher's story. From the beginning, however, Joanne was always fiercely protective of the family and especially the children's privacy.
Still, they hired an attorney, family friend Cindy Laquidara. At times, the delicacy of the situation was extraordinary. When Brokaw asked Harris how he and Joanne would handle it if Speicher returned safely, Harris said: "My blanket answer is: We're going to have one heck of a `welcome home' party, and we'll go from there. We'll -- we'll work it out."
And even though the public scrutiny hurt, the family did what it could to keep Speicher's story alive.
Now the search for Speicher is finally happening. The government is seeking answers with resolution a priority. And, once again, the family has asked for privacy. All interview requests are being denied, Laquidara said.
"They made decisions to get on with their lives based on what the government told them," said Stafford, the high school friend. "But I can tell you they both love Scott very much, and they've been working hard to bring him back."
"This is a human drama of gargantuan proportions," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.
"The fact that those children were told that their father was dead, and then years later the Department of Defense changes his status to missing in action, then changes his status to missing/captured -- you can imagine the trauma that that family is going through."
In 1993, the wreckage of Speicher's plane was found. In 1995, the Defense Department, along with the Red Cross, which had negotiated with the Iraqi government for permission to enter the country, went to the site for an official investigation.
They found part of the plane's seat and Speicher's flight suit, clearly put there recently, because it did not appear weathered by four-plus years of exposure in the desert. They determined that he had ejected from the plane and survived.
Then came the intelligence reports. Iraqi informers claimed to have seen an American pilot at different times, in different locations -- claims that were difficult, if not impossible, to verify.
Then, in 1999, an Iraqi defector told intelligence officers that he had driven an American pilot to Baghdad early in the war. He picked out Speicher's picture. He passed lie detector tests. Of all the reports, one official now says, this seemed the most credible.
Politicians got involved. Then-Sen. Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, was an early advocate. Later, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, took up the cause. Then Nelson did.
In 2000, "60 Minutes II" did a investigation that exposed mistakes in the Pentagon's handling of the incident and highlighted evidence indicating that Speicher might be alive.
And in January 2001, the Navy -- faced with what one official called "an accumulation of evidence" that Speicher might be a POW and absolutely none that indicated his death -- changed his status.
Two months later, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence received a report on Speicher.
"We assess that Iraq can account for (Lieutenant Commander) Speicher but that Baghdad is concealing information about his fate," said an unclassified CIA summary of the analysis. "(Lieutenant Commander) Speicher probably survived the loss of his aircraft, and if he survived, he almost certainly was captured by the Iraqis."
Roberts said that "people should be court-martialed" over the handling of Speicher's case, but he recognizes that now is not the time to place blame.
"I don't think a hindsight, 20/20, finger-pointing
exercise will really help Scott right now," Roberts said. "There will be
enough time for that once we get him on the tarmac."
22 March 2003: Courtesy of the Washington Times
Defense and intelligence agencies have formed a special unit that will go into Iraq to search for Captain Michael Scott Speicher, a missing U.S. Navy pilot believed to have been held captive in Iraq since 1991.
Creating the special unit comes as U.S. intelligence agencies reported last week that an American pilot believed to be Captain Speicher was spotted alive in Baghdad earlier this month.
A classified intelligence report circulated to officials March 14, 2003, stated that Captain Speicher was seen as he was being moved in Baghdad, although officials said the sighting could not be confirmed.
The joint program by officials of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, U.S. Central Command and other agencies also will conduct a nationwide search of Iraq for terrorists and chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, said Lieutenant Commander James Brooks, a DIA spokesman.
"The intelligence community has established a unit to do a country-wide discovery, exploitation and interrogation effort to identify and disrupt terrorist operations; and to identify, examine and eliminate [weapons of mass destruction]," Commander Brooks said in a statement.
"Another function is to determine and resolve the fate of Captain Speicher," Commander Brooks said.
Captain Speicher was declared killed in action after his F-18 jet was shot down by a missile over Iraq on January 17, 1991.
Later, intelligence reports indicated that his plane had crash-landed and that Captain Speicher had ejected. His flight suit was later found during a Red Cross mission to Iraq.
Several intelligence reports from the 1990s also indicated that Iraq was holding an American pilot believed to be Captain Speicher, and in 2001 the Navy reclassified him from killed in action to missing in action.
In October, Navy Secretary Gordon England changed the status again to "missing in action, captured," effectively declaring Captain Speicher a prisoner of war.
The Navy determined at the time that wreckage from the F-18, the recovery of Captain Speicher's flight suit, Iraqi tampering with the downed plane and recent intelligence "continues to suggest strongly that the government of Iraq can account for him."
Baghdad has denied that it was holding Captain Speicher and invited a U.S. team to visit Iraq last year to investigate. The Pentagon and State Department declined the offer.
U.S. officials hope the ouster of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led war will produce definitive proof on whether Captain Speicher is a prisoner or whether he died in captivity.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday that finding terrorists and deadly unconventional weapons are among eight key U.S. objectives in Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States hopes to "identify, isolate and eventually eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, production capabilities, and distribution networks."
U.S. forces also will "search for, capture, drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq."
The troops also will "collect such intelligence as we can find related to terrorist networks in Iraq and beyond" and intelligence on "the global network of illicit weapons of mass destruction activity," the defense secretary said.
Senator Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that he and other interested members of Congress have "come a long way from where we were," a reference to bureaucratic resistance to pursuing the Speicher case.
"Every hearing we have, every [congressional delegation] we have, we always mention this issue," said Mr. Roberts, whom intelligence agencies brief regularly on the Speicher case.
The Kansas senator said the Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War Missing Person Office and the DIA are working on a new assessment of the case, based on the numerous intelligence reports that indicate Iraq is holding an American pilot.
"We're talking about a considerable number of people [in Iraq] who say they've seen an American POW," Mr. Roberts said.
The Senator said he is holding out hope for the day when "we see him getting off an airplane" as a free man.
Saddam has admitted holding some POWs for decades. On Tuesday, Iran and Iraq exchanged about 200 prisoners captured by each side during their eight-year war in the 1980s, according to reports from official Iranian and Iraqi news services.
The Washington Times disclosed in March 2002 that U.S. intelligence agencies had new information indicating that Baghdad was holding an American pilot believed to be Captain Speicher.
A U.S. intelligence report produced in March 2001
stated that "we assess that Iraq can account for Captain Speicher, but
that Baghdad is concealing information about his fate."
It also concluded that Captain Speicher "probably
survived the loss of his aircraft, and if he survived, he almost certainly
was captured by the Iraqis."
Missing Navy Pilot's Kin Look for Answers: 22 March 2003
JACKSONVILLE, Florida - The family of a Navy pilot shot down over Iraq in 1991 hopes the latest war against Saddam Hussein's regime may help resolve lingering questions about what happened to the missing aviator.
U.S. troops will be looking for evidence of Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher's fate as they move throughout Iraq, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said before the latest conflict began.
Speicher and three other pilots flew off the USS Saratoga for a bombing run over Iraq on January 17, 1991. Another FA-18 Hornet pilot saw a flash and lost sight of Speicher.
The next morning, the Defense Department announced that Speicher's plane had been downed by an Iraqi missile. The Pentagon has classified the pilot as "missing in action, captured''; Iraq officials said Speicher was killed in the crash.
"I know that we're going to be looking for him big time as we go into Iraq,'' Nelson said. ``The flip side of that is if you're Saddam Hussein, and if you have Scott Speicher alive, you're probably going to use him for propaganda purposes or for some kind of shield. So, we just don't know.''
Nelson, a Florida Democrat and a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, has urged the Pentagon to make finding Speicher a priority. He has worked with Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, on the Speicher issue.
Lieutnant Commander Paula Storum, a Navy spokeswoman in Washington, said she could not discuss operational details, but said, resolving Speicher's fate "is always a priority for the Navy and its leadership.''
An attorney for Speicher's relatives, Cindy A. Laquidara, said Wednesday that she could not discuss any possible rescue plans the government may have to free the pilot. She said the family would not be available for comment, fearing it might complicate his case.
"Our goal is to bring Scott home after 12 years,'' she said.
Speicher's flight suit was found at the crash site and there have been persistent intelligence reports about a U.S. pilot held in Baghdad. He is only case still unaccounted for from the war.
Speicher was declared killed in action several months after the crash. The Navy redesignated him missing in action last year on the basis of what officials said were intelligence reports from several sources.
Former high school classmates and former Navy pilots who flew with Speicher have formed Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher. They have staged rallies and put up signs reading, "Free Scott Speicher'' around north Florida on billboards and in store windows.
On the Net:
Iraq Invites U.S. to Discuss Pilot
Sunday March 24, 2002
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq said on Sunday it was ready to receive a U.S. delegation to discuss the fate of an American pilot shot down over Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.
"Iraq is ready to receive any American team, accompanied by U.S. media, in order to discuss and document this issue under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher was lost when his Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet was shot down on January 17, 1991, the first night of the war.
Speicher, 33, had been listed as the first casualty of the Gulf War. Last year the Pentagon changed his status from killed in action to missing in action after persistent reports he survived and was being held captive. His tombstone is over an empty grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
In a search of the crash site in December 1995, investigators found the canopy, which ejects with the pilot, spent flares and a survival kit. They also found a tattered flight suit. But no trace of Speicher was found.
When the U.S. Navy changed his status to missing, the State Department asked Iraq, through the International Red Cross and other channels, for information about the flier.
Iraq says Speicher was killed without ejecting from the cockpit, though his remains were never found.
The Iraqi spokesman, who was not identified, said the best way to solve "such mere technical matters" was through specialized legal channels. He did not elaborate.
The United States has warned Iraq it may become
the next target in the war on terror unless it allows U.N. weapons inspectors
back in the country to investigate Western claims the country is building
weapons of mass destruction. Iraq insists it has destroyed all such weapons,
and has barred inspectors since they left in December 1998.
March 11, 2002
Pilot believed alive, held in Iraq
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained new information indicating Iraq is holding captive a U.S. Navy pilot shot down during the Persian Gulf war, The Washington Times has learned.
British intelligence provided the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) with the new information several months ago, and intelligence officials said it could assist in the ongoing investigation into the fate of Navy Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher.
Commander Speicher was declared killed in action in 1991 after his F-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq. But last year he was re-classified as "missing in action" by the Pentagon, based on information from an Iraqi defector. According to U.S. intelligence officials, the British intelligence information was based on an additional intelligence source — someone who had been in Iraq and said he had learned that an American pilot is being held captive in Baghdad.
The British report stated further that only two Iraqis were permitted to see the captive American pilot: the chief of Iraq's intelligence service, and Uday Hussein, son of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, said the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The new intelligence has led some Pentagon officials to believe Iraq is holding Commander Speicher prisoner. One U.S. official said the new agent offered to identify the exact location in Baghdad where the American is being held and also offered to obtain a photograph of the prisoner.
A defense official said the new information is not related to an earlier report from an Iranian pilot who was repatriated recently to Iran and said that he had seen an American held prisoner in Iraq. "That was checked out, and the intelligence community didn't find anything about it," the defense official said.
President Bush has been briefed on the new intelligence on Cmdr. Speicher and the likelihood of an American POW in Baghdad is being factored into U.S. policy toward future operations against Iraq, the officials said.
DIA spokesman Lieutenant Commander Jim Brooks said the Speicher case is "an active investigation." The agency "investigates and continues to investigate all reports regarding the Speicher case." He declined to comment further on specific reports on the case.
A White House spokesman could not be reached for comment.
It could not be learned if the Bush administration is taking steps to contact the Iraqi government about Commander. Speicher. However, U.S. intelligence agencies are continuing to gather information on the case, the official said. The CIA sent a notice to Congress February 4 saying it had obtained new intelligence related to Commander Speicher and is expected to provide more information in a briefing that could come as early as this week, one official said.
A U.S. intelligence report from March 2001 stated: "We assess that Iraq can account for Commander Speicher but that Baghdad is concealing information about his fate." The report, ordered by the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated that Commander Speicher "probably survived the loss of his aircraft, and if he survived, he almost certainly was captured by the Iraqis."
The report stated that Commander Speicher's aircraft was shot down by an Iraqi jet firing an air-to-air missile, and that the jet crashed in the desert west of Baghdad. An unclassified summary of the report, "Intelligence Community Assessment of the Lieutenant Commander Speicher Case," was obtained by The Times. The intelligence community report said that after the Gulf war cease-fire, Commander Speicher was not among the 21 U.S. military personnel released, nor were his remains returned.
The new intelligence information bolsters an earlier report from an Iraqi national. In 1999, an Iraqi defector reported to U.S. intelligence officials that he had taken an injured U.S. pilot to Baghdad six weeks after the Gulf war began. He identified Commander Speicher in a photograph as the pilot. Based on the defector report and pressure from Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, the Navy changed Commander Speicher's status from killed in action to missing in action on January 11, 2001.
The intelligence community report stated that during an investigation of the crash site in 1995, Iraqi officials provided investigators with a flight suit that appeared to be the one worn by Commander Speicher. The flight suit had been cut. The intelligence report concluded that the pilot "probably survived the crash of his F/A-18."
"We assess Lieutenant Commander Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad," the report said.
Mr. Bush has called Iraq one of three "axis of evil" states, and there have been intelligence reports indicating Iraq may have supported the September 11 attacks. The government of the Czech Republic monitored a meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence officer and Mohamed Atta, regarded by U.S. investigators as a ringleader for the September 11 attacks.
Senior Pentagon policy-makers have said Iraq should be the next target for U.S. anti-terrorism operation.
Commander Speicher was the pilot of a Navy F-18 jet that was shot down by enemy fire on Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of combat operations in the Gulf war. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said during a news conference that same day that the pilot had been killed, and the Navy declared Commander Speicher killed in action five months later.
The intelligence community report said that Iraq's government learned that the pilot was declared dead and as a result felt it probably did not have to account for him at the end of the war. At first the Pentagon believed Commander Speicher's aircraft was hit by either a ground or air-fired missile and broke up in flight.
But the aircraft was later found intact and its canopy was found some distance from the crash, a sign the pilot had ejected.
The CIA also was told about the capture of an American pilot in the early 1990s but dismissed the information as coming from an unreliable agent, the officials said. The agency later acknowledged its dismissal was an error, U.S. officials said.
Thursday January 11, 2002
In a highly unusual move, the Navy has decided to change the status of Lieutenant Commander Michael Speicher, shot down in an F-18 fighter on the opening night of the 1991 Gulf War, from killed in action to missing, defense officials said.
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig notified the Speicher family of the decision Wednesday, but as of Thursday morning Danzig had not yet signed the paperwork changing Speicher's status, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Initial word of the Navy's decision came from officials in the office of Senator Bob Smith, R-N.H., who has long challenged the Pentagon's official "finding of death'' for Speicher. The officials discussed the matter on condition they not be identified.
Pentagon officials said Danzig acted because of substantial evidence that Speicher may not have died in the crash. The officials added, however, that the evidence does not suggest that Speicher is still alive. Iraq has never accounted for him.
"It's substantial in nature, in the totality,'' one official said of the evidence. He would not elaborate. The official said the State Department sent a new diplomatic note to Baghdad demanding that the Iraqi government tell all it knows about Speicher's fate.
"We don't have a response from Baghdad,'' Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman, said Thursday.
He said similar U.S. notes would be sent Iraqi representatives at the United Nations in New York and in Geneva, Switzerland.
"We do believe that the Iraqis hold additional information that could help resolve the case of Commander Speicher, and they are obligated to provide that information to us,'' Reeker said.
Last March, Smith and Senator Rod Grams, R-Minn., asked Danzig to change Speicher's status to missing in action, reflecting evidence of doubt about whether he survived the crash. Smith met with Danzig again December 20 on the matter, officials said.
In a letter dated December 18, Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, told Smith a recent intelligence assessment "has stimulated a high-level review of this case - several new actions are under way and additional steps are under intense review.''
Berger's letter, which was provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday, did not specify what actions were contemplated.
Speicher, of Jacksonville, Florida, went missing when his Navy F-18 Hornet was shot down on January 16, 1991, in an air-to-air battle with an Iraqi fighter. He was the first American lost in the war and the last still unaccounted for. Upon announcing the loss of Speicher that night, Dick Cheney, defense secretary at the time, told a news conference he was dead. A short time later the Pentagon changed his status to missing in action.
On May 22, 1991, the Navy approved the official "finding of death.'' That action changed his official status from missing to killed in action.
In September 1998, after efforts by Smith and Grams to learn more about what U.S. intelligence agencies knew of Speicher's fate, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was given a classified chronology of the agencies' activities on the matter.
"We strongly believe that the information contained therein supports the request we are making of you with this letter,'' Smith and Grams told Danzig in a letter last March. They did not cite any specific evidence, which is classified secret.
The senators said they were informed March 12 by the Defense Department's POW-Missing Personnel Office that its position on whether the available evidence indicates Speicher perished in the crash of his plane is, "We don't know.''
Smith and Grams have said before that Pentagon officials initially told them evidence had not been found to indicate that Speicher could have survived the crash. However, in May 1994 - more than three years after Speicher went missing - Pentagon officials indicated in a secret memorandum that a U.S. spy satellite had photographed a "manmade symbol'' at the crash site earlier that year. Some military officers said they interpreted the symbol as a sign that the Navy pilot might have survived the crash.
Speicher was the only American killed on Iraqi territory whose remains were not recovered.
A plan was devised in 1994 to conduct a covert operation into Iraq to search the crash site for clues to Speicher's fate, but it was scrapped in December 1994 by Army General John Shalikashvili, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general ruled the risk of casualties was too high to justify the secret mission.
In 1995, U.S. crash site specialists from the
Defense Department, working with the International Committee of the Red
Cross, entered Iraq with President Saddam Hussein's permission. When they
got to the crash site they found it had been excavated, The New York Times
reported in December.
Friday January 12, 2001
The hometown of an American pilot shot down in the Gulf War still is filled with reminders of his life - and monuments of a death that is now in question.
The Navy announced Thursday it has changed the status of Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher from killed in action to missing in action, prompting Jacksonville residents to wonder whether he may have survived.
"I was in the service and you just don't leave people out there,'' said Jim Cherney, who taught Speicher at Forrest High School in 1975 and said an investigation of the crash was long overdue. "I hope this can bring about some closure for the family.''
Speicher was presumed dead at 33 after his plane went down January 16, 1991, the first night of the war. But President Clinton said Friday the government has asked Iraq to explain what became of Speicher in response to information suggesting he might be alive.
"He was a real good student. He was goal oriented. He was a good athlete. He was the All-American kid,'' Cherney said. "He was one of those kids you just knew would make something from his life.''
The entrance to the high school includes a statue of Speicher, and his alma mater, Florida State University, built the $2 million Scott Speicher Tennis Center in 1993. His name was also engraved in a memorial to Gulf War dead at Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville.
Speicher's final flight was from the deck of the USS Saratoga, which was based at Mayport.
Another memorial sits outside Lakeshore United Methodist Church, where Speicher taught Sunday school. The black marble monument lists the details of Speicher's crash and includes an American flag and a picture of a jet plane and American flag.
Speicher is also memorialized with a marker placed
on an unmarked grave in Arlington National Cemetery.
Saturday January 13, 2001
Iraq said Saturday there was no truth to reports that a missing U.S. Navy pilot might have survived after being shot down during the Gulf War, calling the idea a "silly lie.''
Iraq's Foreign Ministry said it would soon release documents concerning Lieutenant Commander Michael S. Speicher, whose jet was hit on the first night of the Gulf War in 1991. The ministry did not say what information the documents contain.
U.S. intelligence officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday there have been unconfirmed reports in recent years that Speicher survived the downing of his plane and was seen afterward in Iraqi custody.
"This silly lie represents the bankruptcy of (President) Clinton,'' the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the state-run Iraqi News Agency.
Clinton cautioned that he didn't want to raise false hopes, but said the United States was "going to do our best to find out if he is alive and, if he is, to get him out.''
The U.S. government sent a diplomatic communication to Baghdad on Wednesday demanding an accounting, U.S. officials said.
Speicher is the only American lost in Iraqi territory who has not been accounted for. After the war, the Iraqi government turned over remains it said were Speicher's, but DNA analysis and blood testing showed they were not his.
The U.S. officials said more than one informant had reported to U.S. intelligence agencies that an American thought to be Speicher was being held prisoner in Iraq after the war ended.
The reports were received over a period of several years but the sightings were in 1991 and 1992, the officials said. The veracity of the reports was uncertain, but they are credible enough to lead American government officials to think Speicher probably survived the crash.
Speicher, of Jacksonville, Florida, flew his F-18 Hornet off the carrier USS Saratoga on the opening night of the war in January 1991, and went down west of Baghdad. He apparently was attacked by an Iraqi MiG-25 fighter.
Another American pilot who saw the jet explode in the air reported that it was hit by an air-to-air missile and that he did not see Speicher eject. A combat search and rescue mission was planned but not executed, and the crash site was not found until 1994.
Shortly after then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told reporters on the night of the shootdown that Speicher had died in the crash, the Pentagon declared him "missing in action.'' In May 1991, the Navy approved a "finding of death,'' in the absence of evidence that he had survived, and he was switched to "killed in action.'' The KIA status was reaffirmed by the Navy in 1996.
The Navy told Speicher's family on Wednesday that
it was changing his status to "missing in action.'' On Thursday, the Navy
said "additional information and analysis'' led Navy Secretary Richard
Danzig to reverse earlier determinations that Speicher had died.
January 13, 2001
U.S. officials said Friday that they have no proof that a Navy pilot downed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War is alive but that they believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has collected evidence that would solve one of the lingering mysteries of the war.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott Speicher, 33, who was downed on the first day of the air assault on Iraq, was officially reclassified from "killed in action" to "missing in action" this week. Fifteen U.S. pilots are classified as MIA from the war, but Speicher's is the only case where there is a realistic possibility of survival, officials said.
The Navy changed Speicher's status not because it has evidence that he is alive but because an accumulation of facts in recent years led it to doubt earlier signs that he died in a fiery crash, officials said. An accompanying pilot had reported that Speicher's plane was engulfed in flames and that no parachute opened. But officials say they're convinced that the Iraqis gathered evidence from the crash site six years ago that would solve the case. And they're hoping that worldwide publicity about the case will induce Hussein's government, which wants relief from international economic sanctions, to disclose what it knows.
So far, Iraqi officials have commented on the case only "in a misleading way or a deceitful way," said a White House official who asked to remain unidentified. Yet, the official said, "we have every reason to think they know more."
Speicher's case drew attention Thursday when President Clinton appeared to suggest that the government had come across proof that Speicher had survived. "We have some information that leads us to believe that he might be alive, and we hope and pray he is," Clinton said in an interview with CBS-TV.
On Friday, Clinton hastened to clarify his comments, saying, "We do not have hard evidence that he is alive."
A U.S. official added that, in fact, the official view is that "there's very little hope here." Yet he noted that the government is committed to going to great lengths to find out what happened to any missing troops.
Speicher was declared dead in 1991. But in 1994, a hunting party in Iraq came across the crash site. One member of the party was a senior military officer from Qatar who took down serial numbers of equipment and gathered other information about the wreckage. The information tended to suggest that the initial judgment was not accurate and that Speicher might have survived the crash. Later, satellite photos suggested that Speicher had tried to make a big sign to attract attention. And Speicher's flight suit was found. Iraqi defectors have since brought back tales that an American fitting Speicher's description had been in Iraqi captivity just after the war. But officials said these accounts were not confirmed and could have been second or third hand.
After the hunting party's report and with the acquiescence of Iraq, the United States sent an investigative team to the site accompanied by officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross. But it was clear that the Iraqi authorities had already dug up the area.
In 1996, the Navy reaffirmed its earlier judgment that Speicher had been killed in action. The Navy has come under pressure to push harder on the investigation, including from Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.) and former Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.). They have argued that the evidence of Speicher's death was weak. And some veterans have contended that while the chances of Hussein holding a prisoner for 10 years might seem small, the Vietnamese held French prisoners for even longer during the Indochinese war of the 1940s and 1950s.
Throughout much of the 1990s, the Navy took
the view that if Speicher was alive, his chances of survival would be helped
by a lack of public attention to the case. But in the past year,
the Navy has decided that at this late date, it might improve his chances
if the case received additional attention. The U.S. government has come
to the view "that the benefits of going public outweigh the risks,"
the White House official said.
Sunday January 14
Responding to U.S. reports about a missing American pilot from the Gulf War, Iraq on Sunday divulged details of a 1995 search of a crash site in its western desert carried out by the U.S. military and the Red Cross.
intelligence officials in Washington said Friday there were unconfirmed
The Iraqis say Speicher didn't survive the downing of his plane.
In 1995, U.S. crash site specialists from the Defense Department, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, entered Iraq with President Saddam Hussein's permission.
The U.S and Red Cross team found the wreckage from Speicher's aircraft and reported there had been previous digging at the site. The team also found Speicher's flight suit near the site. A Pentagon report later said the flight suit apparently had been cut off the pilot.
In its account of the search released Sunday, Iraq's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, "The Americans demanded the (search) to be carried out secretly.''
"The team, accompanied by Iraqi experts and (Red Cross) representatives, found the pilot's uniform, but not his remains,'' the Foreign Ministry said.
of the plane were found at the site, along with "evidence the pilot was
The Iraqis said prior digging at the site had been carried out by desert-dwelling Bedouins in the area. The Bedouins took some parts of the plane, the Iraqis added.
Iraq's government "did not know where the site was prior to the visit. The American team supplied Iraq with the details on the location,'' the statement said.
Meanwhile, Iraq renewed its demand that the U.S. government pay $70,000 for Iraqi expenses incurred during the investigation.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected Iraq's claims and renewed the U.S. demand for full disclosure.
"We have told the Iraqis is that their statements to this point have either turned out to be inaccurate, misleading or incomplete,'' Crowley said. "We believe they continue to conceal information important to us in determining once and for all the status of Commander Speicher.''
Speicher is the only American lost in Iraqi territory during the war who has not been accounted for.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said more than one informant had reported to U.S. intelligence agencies that an American thought to be Speicher was being held prisoner in Iraq after the war ended.
Speicher, of Jacksonville, Florida, flew his F-18 Hornet off the carrier USS Saratoga on the opening night of the war in January 1991, and went down west of Baghdad. He apparently was attacked by an Iraqi MiG-25 fighter.
American pilot who saw the jet explode in the air reported that it was
hit by an air-to-air missile and that he did not see Speicher eject. A
combat search and rescue mission was planned but not executed, and the
crash site was not found until 1994.
In eight hours they'd fly into a war.
Scott Speicher and Tony Albano, three squadronmates and scores of other Navy pilots would roar off the carrier Saratoga in the Red Sea, across Saudi Arabia and toward Baghdad.
Now they stood in the planning room, reviewing
the timing of the attack, their flight paths and targets. It was
the afternoon of January 16, 1991. The pilots would soon climb into their
F/A-18 Hornets and launch the first air
Originally, Speicher wasn't supposed to go. His commander had tapped him as the airborne spare. He was to fly in and take over if any of the other jets malfunctioned.
Speicher went to his skipper the day before and pleaded. He didn't want to be the spare, to have to turn around and come back to the ship without firing a shot.
Even in a competitive field, where petty jealousies turn some pilots against others, everybody liked "Spike.'' He was a walking cliche: married to his college sweetheart, Joanne, father of a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, Sunday school teacher, a great swimmer, and despite the good-guy credentials, he wielded a sheepish grin and personality that always made a party a little more lively.
His commander liked him, too. He knuckled under
and agreed to send Speicher on the strike. He never returned. He and his
jet vanished that night and left behind a series of puzzling clues, jumbled
further by government
What happened that January night torments his family, battle-toughened pilots and intelligence agents.
In the planning room, Speicher and Albano learned that they'd take off well after midnight, to return around dawn. They decided they'd better get some sleep and walked back to the stateroom they shared.
Speicher crawled into the top bunk, Albano into the bottom. They lay still for 45 minutes, maybe an hour, hearts pounding, minds racing.
"I can't sleep,'' Albano finally said softly. "I can't, either.''
Around 1 a.m., they put on their flight suits, boots and gear, walked through the mess deck and up to the flight deck. Speicher, Albano and others from their squadron, the VFA-81 Sunliners, slapped hands.
"See you back on deck in a couple of hours,''
Albano told his buddy. They were all nervous. Barry "Skull'' Hull knew
he must be more uptight than he thought because his mouth was so dry. "God,
I need a drink of water,'' he
The Saratoga's crew launched 40 jets, one every 30 seconds, into the darkness, and the pilots headed for their rendezvous point, a fuel tanker flying over Saudi Arabia.
One by one, they rotated into position to stick a probe into the tanker and fuel up. Hull pulled his jet away, slipped to the back of the formation and looked down into another pilot's cockpit.
He didn't know who it was and couldn't ask; they flew "comms out,'' staying off the radios to avoid adding to an airwave overload. But Hull marveled at what he saw below: the glow of the instrument panel and the green formation lights of the F/A-18, an aircraft many thought to be the most versatile military jet yet made.
"Man, that is so cool,'' Hull said to himself. "Think of the power.''
Hull knew the Hornet could do it all. It was designed
for both air-to-air combat and bombing ground targets. The F/A-18s sported
a sophisticated electronic identification system and packed two Sparrow
and two Sidewinder
Near the target, the pilot could flip a switch, go into attack mode and drop a bomb. On this night, Speicher and VFA-81 pilots each were loaded with three high-speed anti-radiation missiles, or HARMs.
The mission was to take out Iraqi radar, command and control centers and surface-to-air missile sites. The Hornets would come in seconds after a volley of cruise missiles. The Iraqis would detect the cruise missiles, flip on their radar, man their SAMs and, just then, the Hornets would launch their radar-seeking HARMs and slam Iraqi defenses.
Then a third wave of bombers would come through and hammer the targets. It was an intricate plan, relying on precise flight paths and accurate information from AWACs planes, airborne radar and communications stations that monitored the sky.
The pilots needed every warning that technology had to offer, because on this first night, they flew straight into and through one of the most sophisticated air defenses ever encountered. Lt. Gen. Charles Horner, in charge of the air campaign, had told allied commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf that one of every five of his aircraft might get shot down.
That would mean hundreds of losses.
Within minutes of leaving the tanker, Speicher and the other Hornet pilots got a close look at what worried Horner.
They crossed rugged terrain along the Saudi border, entered Iraq, and anti-aircraft fire streamed up at them.
Bob Stumpf was already anxious. Stumpf, a commander with VFA-83, VFA-81's sister squadron, had gotten behind an A-6 Intruder pilot at the tanker, and the pilot must've had the jitters. The guy took a long time to get fuel, and Stumpf had to head for the target without a full tank.
Now, as he zoomed at 690 miles per hour, his radar warning devices filled his cockpit with warbles and whistles and deedle-deedles.
He looked to the horizon and saw something glowing. It pulsated. It seemed alive. In the clear night sky, he couldn't tell how far away it was. It could have been five miles, or 50.
Stumpf had flown in the 1986 raid on Libya, but that was routine compared with what he saw and heard on the first night of Desert Storm.
Orange balls, anti-aircraft fire, came up at him. He thought he was going to die.
Each pilot was assigned an altitude in the 25,000-to-30,000-foot range to make sure they wouldn't collide, but Stumpf started flying up and down quickly to become a tougher target.
Hull saw the pulsing glow, too. At first, he thought it must be an optical illusion. Then he thought that the Middle East must have something like the northern lights.
Soon, he was in it. It was in front of him, behind him, to both sides. The glowing vat turned out to be Baghdad.
Hull's warning gear also chirped like crazy. He remembered what the Vietnam pilots sometimes did, reached over and turned it off.
``Screw it,'' he said, and started using his own eyes to look for missiles.
Just then, the controller plane called out:
"I've got a pop-up, SA-6.''
The SA-6 was one of Iraq's most feared surface-to-air
missiles. Pop-up meant that the satellites hadn't shown it. The 18-foot
rockets, mounted on tanks, could reach a jet at 30,000 feet and explode
when they detected the heat of
Hull waited for someone to ask for the missile's location. No one did. "Damn it,'' he said. "Give me the coordinates!''
The controller rattled them off. Hull jotted the location on his kneeboard and compared it with where he was.
"Oh God no! I'm dead over the top of an SA-6.''
He pushed on, and never saw the missile.
The pilots looked outside their cockpits for immediate threats and glanced down at their radars, sweeping for enemy fighters.
The AWACs controllers described the air picture, as the pilots pushed toward Baghdad. Normally, a Navy E-2C Hawkeye watched over Hornet pilots, but on this night, the Air Force AWACs ran the show.
A little over two hours into the mission, the pilots heard their strike leader and Speicher's skipper, Michael "Spock'' Anderson, break into the radio frequency.
"I've got a fast-mover, on my nose, he's hot,'' Anderson called out. "Confirm bandit?''
Anderson needed the controller to call the fast-mover a bandit, an enemy, instead of a bogey, an unknown. The rules of engagement that night were strict. With hundreds of jets in the sky, the possibility of "blue on blue,'' of a friendly fire kill, was extremely high.
The Hornet pilots had to confirm an enemy fighter at least two ways before firing a missile: They could see it with their eyes (nearly impossible at night), they could ID it electronically or the controller could declare it hostile.
The hair on the back of Hull's neck shot up. He had been so concerned with shooting his HARMs that he had his Hornet in bombing mode, instead of sweeping for enemy fighters.
"Oh my God! What was I thinking?!'' Hull flipped the switch and started scanning for air threats.
The call also jolted other pilots. Albano flew a few miles behind Anderson. Albano knew what "hot'' meant: The Iraqi fighter's nose pointed almost directly at the nose of Anderson's Hornet.
A couple of pilots thought they heard Anderson identify the enemy as a MiG-25, a Soviet-made jet that could fly at nearly three times the speed of sound.
The controller answered Anderson:
"NEGATIVE . . . negative bandit, confirm BOGEY.''
Anderson and the Iraqi pilot roared through the dark sky at each other. Anderson didn't want to shoot down one of his own. No stain clung to an aviator more than a blue-on-blue kill. Fellow pilots would talk behind the pilot's back, ask what was wrong with him, get antsy about flying with him. Horner's staff feared half a dozen or more friendly fire kills in the first two weeks.
Anderson wanted someone else to see what he surely saw. They'd been told dozens of times: Better to let a bad guy go than shoot down a good guy.
"Confirm BANDIT?'' Anderson said again, not yelling but punching the words more strongly.
"Negative bandit,'' the controller said. "Declare bogey.''
Now sweeping, Hull spotted the enemy jet on his radar, but it wasn't coming toward him.
Albano and the others desperately looked for it but couldn't find it.
Anderson asked a third time, even more firmly.
"Negative . . . bogey. Negative . . . bogey.''
The Iraqi fighter and Anderson's Hornet zoomed past each other, at a combined speed near 2,000 mph. Neither fired a missile.
The pilots figured the jet "bugged out,'' just kept flying away from the Hornets, knowing they didn't have the power to catch him. Some A-6 pilots a few minutes later saw the massive exhaust, nearly 300 feet long, of a MiG right over their heads.
Dave Renaud, from VFA-83, heard Anderson say the MiG had turned "cold,'' flown out of firing range.
A few minutes later, he saw a big explosion off to his right. It seemed close, maybe five or 10 miles away, and at his altitude.
Its bright flash mesmerized him. He watched it sparkle and glow all the way to the desert floor.
Must be an Iraqi jet getting knocked out by an F-15, he thought. That made sense. Air Force F-15s had launched ahead of the other jets and were to sweep the skies of Iraqi fighters.
The radio frequency was still buzzing, so Renaud didn't report the explosion.. Nor did he mark his latitude and longitude. Just in case, though, he did talk into a tape recorder running in his cockpit.
"I see a big explosion off to my right,'' he said.
Stumpf saw it, too. The blast lit up his Hornet like a strobe.
Pay attention, Stumpf told himself, and don't do anything stupid. They pushed toward the targets, fired their HARMs, then turned south toward the tankers.
Stumpf wanted to haul out of there, but instead had to chug back to conserve fuel. It seemed to take forever to near the Saudi border.
Hull lit his afterburners to blaze back, then remembered that would make him an easy mark for a heat-seeking missile. He backed off.
They all converged at the fuel tankers. They had to pass through a gateway, a specific location and altitude that would let others know they were not enemy aircraft trying to slip through.
About 20 miles from the Saudi border, pilots started checking in with the AWACs. Speicher should have reported in before Albano but didn't. Anderson asked Albano to try to reach Speicher.
Albano tried a tactical frequency only used by VFA-81.
"Spike . . . Bano . . . you up?''
"Spike . . . Bano.''
He switched to another frequency.
"Spike . . . Bano . . . you up?''
Albano radioed Hull and asked him to try.
"Spike . . . ? Skull, have you got me? Spike, come in. Spike . . . How copy?''
Hull radioed Albano and said he couldn't raise Speicher. Albano relayed the message to their skipper.
"Bano's back up.''
"Any word?'' Anderson asked.
Not a good sign, but Albano thought Speicher probably had a mechanical failure, turned around and went back to the ship. Or maybe he flew to one of the diversion airfields for an emergency landing.
The possibilities raced through Albano's mind.
Speicher could have ejected and been rescued by special operations teams, or worst case, ejected and started evading capture.
Albano and the others flew in silence back to the Saratoga.
Dave Renaud was shell-shocked.
He strode through the passageways of the carrier Saratoga, his mind replaying that night's strike, working to unscramble the radio calls about the MiG, the fireball he'd seen and the other pilots trying to get a response from Scott Speicher.
He couldn't believe that, of all the pilots in the sky, he had the best view of the explosion. It seemed so big, like no one flying over Iraq at the time could have missed it.
He chastised himself. He should have marked his position. He should have broken onto the AWACs frequency and reported what he saw, but the radio was busy, he had missiles to fire and he kept quiet.
When he landed his F/A-18 back on the Saratoga, he went straight to the ship's intelligence center, where pilots report the details of their missions.
The intel officer asked Renaud if he'd seen anything out of the ordinary. Renaud told him about the fireball, how big and bright it was and how he watched it fall into the desert.
"It didn't look to me like that was a survivable explosion,'' Renaud said. "You know,'' the intel officer told him, ``Speicher did not come back. Go straight to Spock Anderson and tell him what you know.''
Renaud found Michael ''Spock'' Anderson, Speicher's
skipper, in one of the ready rooms. Renaud always flew with a tape running
in his heads-up display, a monitor that records the action in front of
a Hornet and in the cockpit. On
They listened to the tape a couple of times, found where Renaud was when he spoke into his microphone about the explosion. They matched that against other Hornet data that tracked Renaud's flight minute by minute.
If a surface-to-air missile or an enemy fighter had knocked Speicher out of the sky early that morning, Anderson would have to know precisely where to get special operations forces to search.
They pulled out Renaud's flight chart. Renaud scribbled a circle where he thought he saw the explosion.
Next to it, he wrote, "Spike.''
Twelve hours later, military leaders in Washington briefed the media about the first night of the Gulf War. It was January 17, 1991.
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell described an incredibly successful series of airstrikes.
"There's been a single American aircraft lost,'' Cheney told reporters. "It involves a single casualty. I don't know that we want to identify the aircraft, do we?''
Cheney looked at Powell.
"It was an F-18,'' Powell said.
Was that a wounding or a death? a reporter asked.
"A . . . ,'' Cheney hesitated, "a death.''
Cheney didn't name Speicher, but the pilots back on the Saratoga knew whom he was talking about. As soon as the squadrons returned that morning, Speicher's fate became the buzz of the ship.
Cheney's statement assumed that the blast Renaud saw was Speicher's jet and that he couldn't have survived the explosion. That theory would fuel assumptions for years.
Bob Stumpf, of VFA-83 squadron, heard that Speicher
hadn't tried to contact anyone with his survival radio, but he also had
heard that VFA-81s' new radios wouldn't fit in their pockets. Maybe Speicher
lost his when he ejected
He knew that Renaud hadn't seen a parachute after the explosion, but it was the middle of the night. Stumpf thought they would only declare Speicher killed so quickly if someone had found his body.
"They know something we don't know,'' Stumpf thought when he heard of Cheney's remarks.
If Speicher wasn't dead, the pilots knew what Cheney said could doom him. If the Iraqis had captured Speicher and if President Saddam Hussein knew U.S. leaders thought he was dead, maybe Saddam would keep him. An American pilot could be a trophy prisoner.
Fellow pilots hadn't assumed Speicher was dead. If a missile had slammed into Speicher's Hornet, he likely ejected, they thought.
"Poor bastard's probably in the desert somewhere trying to find water,'' Stumpf thought.
Later that day, Anderson called a meeting of his officers. Barry Hull remembers Anderson giving the news straight. He didn't speculate.
"Guys, you know Spike didn't make it back last night,'' Anderson said, "and he did not divert, either.''
That afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida, Navy wives and relatives anxiously wondered which Hornet pilot had been killed.
A middle-class neighborhood had sprouted under
the flight paths of Cecil Field Naval Air Station. Kids went to Nathan
Bedford Forrest High School, Speicher's alma mater, where there's no ignoring
the jets when they roar
Navy representatives drove down the street, past the yellow ribbons and red, white and blue streamers that had been tied to lampposts five months earlier when the ships first deployed for Desert Shield.
They could have stopped at many homes in that neighborhood, but they knocked on the door of Joanne Speicher. She had quit her job teaching home economics at Forrest High School to have Meghan, now 3, and her husband's namesake, Michael, nearly 2.
She had heard what Cheney said, but didn't know who'd been killed. They told her. The Boy Scout, the kid who had balanced on the end of the diving board for a shot in the high school yearbook, the husband who sat on the floor with the 4- and 5-year-olds in his Sunday school class to help color and paste, would not be home when the war ended.
The Pentagon reported that an Iraqi surface-to-air missile had knocked Speicher's Hornet from the sky. No American fighter jets had been lost to air-to-air combat, the Pentagon said.
After the family was told, Michael Scott Speicher, 33, became a headline.
David Rowe, a friend of Speicher's from high school and Florida State University, had just finished a day of deer hunting in Eustis, Fla., when he flipped on the TV.
A day after the airstrikes began, war coverage still transfixed most Americans. Rowe knew many Navy pilots from living in Jacksonville, and he knew others from his job at the Naval Aviation Depot.
The United States has lost its first pilot during Operation Desert Storm, CBS's Dan Rather reported.
A photo of a smiling pilot in a flight suit flashed on the screen.
Scott Speicher, his buddy with the impish grin. The kid from Missouri who moved to Florida and loved to sunbathe: "You're living in Florida, man, you gotta have a tan.''
The guy who one-upped his Florida State buddies on the rite of passage of diving from a 30-foot cliff into Big Dismal Sink. Speicher watched his friends jump in, then stood at the edge of the cliff and grinned.
"Is that the best you can do?'' he yelled down.
Speicher climbed an oak tree on the edge of the sinkhole and soared headfirst about 50 feet into the water. Rowe thought right then that Spike was destined to get catapulted from aircraft carriers for a living.
When Rowe saw that picture on TV, nausea swept over him, he slid off the couch onto his knees, slapped the floor and cried.
The pilots on the Saratoga kept focusing on their missions.
They did not yet control the skies over Iraq. The night after Speicher went down, the Saratoga lost two A-6 jets and a few days later, an F-14. To the other pilots, dying on a mission became a real possibility.
"Spike, he's better than me and he got it,'' Hull kept thinking. "That means I can get it.''
For Stumpf, a 17-year veteran pilot, getting back
into his F/A-18 for his second mission was the toughest thing he had ever
done. Stumpf, Hull and the others tried to block out what had happened
on that first strike and bear
Two weeks passed quickly. The captain of the Saratoga told Joanne Speicher that the military was making every effort to find her husband or his remains.. Spock Anderson sent her this message: "All, repeat, all theater combat search and rescue efforts were mobilized.''
But no one ever went looking for Speicher.
General Norman Schwarzkopf had put Army Colonel Jesse Johnson in charge of combat search and rescue efforts for allied forces opposing Iraq, and Johnson set up strict guidelines for launching a search. The teams would have to hear from a downed pilot, find out his location and assess the risk before going into Iraq.
That was a drastic change from Vietnam, where teams would head out and search when they heard that a pilot had gone down. Seventy-one search and rescue team members were killed, but Air Force rescuers saved more than 4,000 Americans, and the Navy picked up hundreds of others.
In the Persian Gulf War, 35 allied jets went down, but Johnson only launched search teams for seven of them. They rescued three pilots.
Speicher's disappearance didn't meet the requirements.
After the shooting stopped, about six weeks later, Navy officers called Speicher's roommate, Tony Albano, and instructed him to go to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Iraq had released its prisoners of war, and Albano was sent to see if Speicher was among the men who walked off the plane.
He wasn't overly optimistic, but there was a chance.
The hope died quickly.
By the time the plane touched down with 21 American POWs, Albano had been told Speicher wasn't among them. He flew back to the Saratoga.
That same day, Army Capt. Timothy Connolly of the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion was stationed in the Iraqi desert. His special operations unit had set up Camp Mercy to deal with people the Iraqis were freeing from prisons. Connolly was called over to talk to a Kuwaiti man who had been captured by the Iraqis four months earlier.
The man told Connolly that he was a colonel with the Kuwaiti secret police and that he'd been in a hospital just days earlier in An Nasiriyah. In the bed next to him, he said, was an American pilot.
Connolly sent a message to headquarters and said the Kuwaiti had offered to look at photos of American pilots. Not necessary, came the response.
"The prisoner exchange has taken place. We're not missing anybody.''
The Kuwaiti went home, and Connolly jotted the encounter in his log book.
A few weeks later, Iraq sent remains to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Iraqis said they belonged to an American pilot named "Mickel.''
The remains went to Dover Air Force Base, then to Dr. Victor Weedn at the office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. Weedn was in charge of building the Department of Defense DNA Registry, a pioneering effort that included an identification laboratory. Later, he would use the technology to identify victims of the TWA Flight 800 crash, those who died when the Branch Davidian compound burned and the remains of Czar Nicholas II.
But this was 1991, and the science was shaky. Before Desert Storm, Weedn asked to collect DNA from every member of the military, but some superiors were skeptical and denied the request.
Then came "Mickel,'' literally a pound of flesh. It was dried skin with some hair on it. Weedn saw that the remains came from a Caucasian but someone with a darker complexion.
Without Speicher's DNA to compare to Mickel's flesh, Weedn had to try another route. He got stubble from Speicher's electric shaver. He sent some of the flesh to a commercial lab with which he had contracted. While he waited for those results, he tested the DNA of the flesh another way and compared that with Speicher's.
They didn't match.
The other results came back: They didn't match, either.
On May 6, Weedn reported that he didn't know whose flesh he was sent, but it definitely didn't belong to Speicher.
Two weeks later, the secretary of the Navy's office said there was "no credible evidence'' that Speicher survived his crash.
Weedn was surprised, but figured it was the Navy's call. They must know something more.
On May 22, the Navy held a memorial service at Cecil Field Chapel. The place was packed.
Speicher's college friend David Rowe was so proud of what Anderson said during his eulogy.
"He was one of the best, if not the best, aviator in the wing,'' Anderson said. "To watch Spike land an F/A-18 on an aircraft carrier was a work of art.''
That same day, the Navy declared Speicher KIA/BNR, killed in action, body not recovered.
Later, he got a marker at Arlington National Cemetery.
Florida State University announced it would build the Scott Speicher Memorial Tennis Center. Lake Shore United Methodist Church also built a memorial.
And Rowe and some of Speicher's college friends decided to hold a golf tournament in his honor. Rowe went over to Anderson's home one night, and they talked about the golf outing and swapped stories about Speicher.
Rowe told him about the time Spike jumped from the cliff. Anderson told Rowe one of his favorite stories:
The pilots were relaxing at a hotel in the Middle East. They were several floors up on a balcony, having a cookout, and Spike looked across the street at some construction.
"Twenty bucks I can hit that bulldozer with this kielbasa,'' Spike said.
You're on, the other pilots told him. So Spike grabbed a whole kielbasa, ducked into the room to line up his shot, then quick-stepped to the railing and tossed it.
It hurtled up, out across the street and then smacked right on top of the bulldozer. The operator looked over and started yelling. The pilots cackled.
"DIRECT HIT! DIRECT HIT!''
Anderson and Rowe had a good laugh. Then Rowe asked, if Anderson didn't mind saying, what had happened to his friend.
"It was a SAM that got him?'' Rowe said.
He remembers the look that came over Anderson. How his eyes filled with tears. "It was no SAM that got Spike,'' he said. "Let me tell you what happened.''
So Anderson told Rowe about how Spike came to him begging to go on the mission, and Anderson said no. And Spike came back a second time, and Anderson changed his mind.
Then he told Rowe about the MiG, and how the rules
of engagement leaned toward letting an enemy fighter go if you weren't
sure. For months, the Pentagon had stuck to the story that Speicher had
been downed by a
"I'm telling you right now, don't believe what you're being told,'' Rowe remembers Anderson saying. "It was that MiG that shot Spike down.
"I HAD him, Dave, and I could have taken him out.''
With that, the official story of what happened to Scott Speicher started to come unglued.
Two years later, it would fall apart completely with an unexpected discovery.
The convoy rolled out of Baghdad the morning of Dec. 10, 1995, and headed toward the crash site.
Nine months had passed since Iraq agreed to allow a visit to the wreckage of Scott Speicher's F/A-18, though Baghdad had postponed it three times. A year had gone by since Timothy Connolly urged his superiors at the Pentagon to secretly dispatch a team to the desert.
Two years had passed since Qataris found Speicher's jet.
Only the night before in Baghdad, the International
Committee of the Red Cross had given the Iraqis the latitude and longitude
of the crash site. But as the team neared the wreckage, Bedouins stood
along the sandy path and
The ICRC sent four people. The Iraqis sent two people and ordered soldiers to encircle the perimeter of the camp for protection.
The group had left the fertile flatlands and lakes surrounding Baghdad and, just three hours later, stood on a moonlike surface. They were 1,000 feet above sea level, in the desert. As far as they looked, all they could see was sand and a few scattered clumps of grass, shrubs and vines.
Just to the north, trails radiated out from Bedouin camps.
Speicher's Hornet was right-side up. Big chunks of it, easily recognized parts like its engines, lay in a circle no more than 60 feet wide.
Without moving one shovel of sand, military experts knew what that meant. The jet had lost power, gone into a flat spin and dropped almost straight to the desert floor.
Speicher's jet had not, as first thought, been blown to bits in the sky.
Investigators quickly noticed one other thing: The cockpit was missing.
Obviously, others had gotten to the crash site before the Americans.
Investigators started at the nose of the F/A-18 and roped off an area to excavate. It looked to them like the wreckage had been searched by people who knew what they were doing.
A pile of backfill, a mound of sand dug from somewhere else, had been heaped near where the cockpit should have been. Popped rivets lay on the ground nearby. The backfill, the experts thought, was less than a month old.
Components from the Hornet's computer had been removed, too.
As the work near the jet continued, other members of the team formed skirmish lines, spreading out and walking slowly to look for other evidence.
Two thousand feet to the north, they spotted something man-made, a tall arch sitting upright on a sandy knoll. They got closer and saw that it was the frame of the canopy, the transparent shield that covers the cockpit. It looked like Bedouins had stood it on end as a landmark.
To the south, they found one of the HARM missiles Speicher was to drop on the first night of the Gulf War.
A couple of days later, Navy flight mishap investigator Bruce Trenholm got a call on his radio. The other team members had found something a couple of miles away and wanted him to look at it.
He drove north and found the group standing in a circle. One of the Iraqis said a Bedouin boy had found a jumpsuit while herding his sheep.
They told Trenholm it was Speicher's flight suit.
Trenholm could see that it was a U.S. NOMEX suit, standard aviator coveralls
resistant to fires up to several hundred degrees. He also could see that
it had faded from its usual
He'd have to investigate to make sure it was Speicher's.
Near the flight suit, they found a cluster of pilot survival items: pieces of straps from a parachute, an inflatable raft, a 20 mm shell and pieces of an anti-G suit that a pilot wears to lessen aerodynamic forces.
They found a signaling flare. Someone had tried to light both ends, one for daytime and one for night. The pyrotechnics were still inside the night end, which meant maybe it hadn't worked.
On the team's fourth day in the desert, Trenholm spotted a small item sitting on a rock. Part of it had been sheared off when the jet hit the ground, but he knew what it was: the data storage unit of a Hornet.
If the information could be recovered from it, the DSU could unveil a minute-by-minute mechanical account of Speicher's last flight.
On their last day in the desert, the team anthropologist and others excavated a rectangular rock pile near the canopy. They thought it might be a makeshift grave.
They dug down several feet but found no remains.
The next day, Dec. 15, the team pulled out. Some of the most valuable evidence would turn up in the weeks to come, as the DSU and the flight suit were analyzed.
But during those five days, team members got a look at what Speicher would have seen if he'd landed safely. Miles of sand in any direction, far from anybody who could help him.
One other thought picked at Trenholm's brain. It was cold. Freezing.
This was December. Speicher was shot down in January.
If it was cold now, in a tent, with plenty of layers and thick sleeping bags, Trenholm knew it would have been bone-cold for Speicher.
A few weeks later, Tony Albano got a message during a training flight that Trenholm was trying to track him down.
Albano, Speicher's roommate on the carrier Saratoga during the war, by that time was with a squadron in Meridian, Miss. Albano and Mark Fox, another squadronmate from VFA-81, agreed to meet Trenholm at Florida's Cecil Field.
In Jacksonville, Trenholm explained that he had been on the International Red Cross mission to the Iraqi desert, they had found a flight suit and he wanted Albano to look at it and see if he thought it was Speicher's.
He told them about the Bedouin boy who said he found the suit and that most of the Red Cross team members figured the Iraqis had planted it.
He told them that the legs were slit in the back,
like an emergency worker or doctor would cut a suit off someone who was
face down. He told them he'd estimated Speicher's height at 5 feet 11 inches,
his weight at 168 pounds and
Then Trenholm reached into a paper bag and pulled it out.
The last time Albano had seen that suit, Speicher was wearing it, and they were slapping hands, wishing each other luck on their first wartime missions.
Now, here it was, found lying in the sand, coming out of a bag.
Albano saw that the suit was a little tattered, pockets were missing and the patches were gone. He knew that pilots remove those patches to "sanitize'' their flight suits before flying into enemy territory.
He looked at Trenholm.
"I'm positive that's his flight suit,'' Albano said.
Then Fox hopped into his car, went to his house
and grabbed his old flight suit. A circular patch of Velcro fastener on
Speicher's right sleeve matched Fox's "Sunliners-Anytime-Anyplace'' patch.
An oval of Velcro on the left
Trenholm then told Speicher's squadronmates about the condition of the jet, and the canopy and the parachute straps and the life support gear.
Five years after that awful night, there seemed to be even fewer answers. And the same old question.
"Oh God,'' Albano thought. "Well, what happened to him?''
Soon after the team returned to the United States, a top official at the Defense Department's POW/MIA office met with Sen. Robert Smith to tell him what the group had found.
Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, was on the Senate Armed Services Committee and had tracked the Speicher case since the Qataris found the wreckage in 1993. Smith's own father was a naval aviator who was killed near the end of World War II, two days before Smith's fourth birthday.
On Jan. 17, during his briefing with the POW/MIA official, Smith heard grave news: The Red Cross team had found nothing to suggest Speicher could have survived.
A few weeks later, the aircraft investigators,
life support experts, aviation engineers and anthropologists filed their
reports. Their findings colored in a fairly thorough picture of what had
happened to Speicher during his final
That picture differed sharply from what Smith had been told.
On Feb. 15, an aircraft mishap investigator at the Navy's Safety Center in Norfolk reported a time line of Speicher's last flight. The information had come from the damaged memory unit the team recovered.
Speicher lifted the Hornet off the deck of the Saratoga at 1:36 a.m.
At 1:43 a.m., his jet recorded a code indicating
a HARM launch computer failure. One, two or all three of his missiles might
have been inoperative. Two hours later, nearing the target, the jet's computer
At 3:49, Speicher turned off the jet's autopilot.
Seventeen seconds later, something slammed into his Hornet so hard that it lost power.
Engineers reported that the rocket motors that
blast the canopy from the aircraft had burned even marks on its frame.
That signaled a good ejection. They determined that the charred paint on
the inside of the canopy, and the
Speicher would have had second-degree burns on exposed skin, such as the back of his neck. But because of survival vests, the NOMEX suit and his anti-G suit, it would take a fire hotter than 700 degrees and longer than 10 seconds to cause fatal burns.
One of the engineers wrote: "This pilot was over enemy territory, in extremis situation and sitting in the middle of a hot cockpit fire. Logic dictates that the only way this pilot is getting rid of his canopy is by ejecting.''
Trenholm's report picked up with the ejection.
He determined that the canopy's distance from
the wreckage meant that when Speicher pulled the ejection handle, it separated
as it should have. The flight suit, signal flare, life raft items and anti-G
suit materials were
Up to that point, 58 air crew had ejected from F/A-18s. Six had been injured fatally, and a majority were injured either from the jolt when the parachute opened or from landing.
But most pilots who ejected lived.
Trenholm found out that China Lake, years earlier, had issued a warning about the GQ 1000 Aeronautical Parachute that Speicher was using. Those parachutes sometimes allowed pilots to fall too fast, causing landing injuries.
His report concluded that Speicher probably had been injured either when the parachute opened or during his landing. Speicher's flight suit had some stains, maybe blood, but not enough to suggest that he had serious injuries.
Smith had been told the team found no evidence that Speicher survived.
But no one had turned up any evidence he had died, either.
Any day now, the call would come.
Scott Speicher's widow, Joanne, and her husband, Buddy Harris, would be told on which day Speicher's status would be changed to missing in action. President Clinton had signed off.
It was early January 2001, 10 years since Speicher's F/A-18 had been shot down over Iraq, nearly as long since the Navy had declared him killed in action.
What was about to happen would make history.
No American service member, from any war, had ever been taken off the KIA list and switched back to missing in action.
Despite being KIA, Speicher's career had flourished: The lieutenant commander who entered the Gulf War had been promoted to commander. The Navy gave Joanne his back pay. Soon after he was listed as MIA, she would start receiving Speicher's monthly salary of $6,313.
Joanne and Buddy knew the story would stir the media. They'd have to talk to the kids, Michael and Meghan.
They were 1 and 3 when their father was shot down. The couple worried that this would jumble their lives again.
"The worst thing that's going to happen,'' Buddy remembers telling them, "is that somebody is going to come back into your lives who loves you more than anything else. Having more than one person love you can't be bad.''
Word of the announcement leaked a day early, and reporters surrounded the Harris house in Jacksonville, Fla.
Joanne and Buddy stuck with their plan: They packed up the family and left town for a week.
The Navy announced Speicher's status change on Jan. 11 in a four-paragraph statement. But President Clinton created a frenzy.
"We have some information that leads us to believe
he might be alive,'' Clinton told reporters later that day. "And we hope
and pray that he is. But we have already begun working to try to determine
whether, in fact, he's
Alive? What did the government know? Or had Clinton, 10 days before leaving office, gone too far? Hours later, he tried to temper the statement.
"Well, I don't want to say more than we have,''
the president said. "All I want to say is we have evidence which convinced
me that we can't ensure that he perished. I don't want to hold out false
hope, but I thought it was wrong
The next day, the story made the front page of newspapers across the country.. Speicher's squadronmate Barry Hull and Sen. Robert Smith appeared on CBS's "The Early Show.'' The show's anchor asked Smith why the U.S. government had waited seven years, from the time Speicher's jet was found, to try to locate the pilot.
Smith said he couldn't understand that, either.
He said that up until 1998, he had been misled, and he promised to deal
later with those who had steered Congress awry. There's not one shred of
evidence, Smith said, that shows
"This pilot, if he's alive, has been there for 10 years with nobody looking for him. And that's just plain outrageous.''
Hull began by saying hello to his combat buddies: Ammo, Banker, Bano, Bert, Chauncy, Coop, Donor, Hoff, Jonah, Maggot, Mongo, Cong, MRT, Oscar, Polecat, , Spock and Whip.
"And, Spike, if you're out there, we're thinking about you, buddy.''
The anchor asked Hull if he really thought Speicher could be alive, after 10 years.
He didn't think so, Hull said, but he couldn't be sure.
"I believe I read somewhere where the North Vietnamese held prisoners for, held the French prisoners for 20 years. So it has happened before. And there's no assurance that he's dead.''
The question had haunted Hull, his squadronmates, Spike's friends and the government for a decade.
It confounded them more, not less, as each year passed.
Former Pentagon official Timothy Connolly says there is no evidence to support the idea that Scott Speicher was killed during the Persian Gulf War.
Tony Albano may have been the last pilot to speak to Speicher. They were roommates on the carrier Saratoga, about to fly off the ship on their first strike. "See you back on deck in a couple of hours,'' he told Spike.
Albano stayed with the Navy and is now a captain.
He's commander of Training Air Wing Two in Kingsville, Texas. He's still
loyal to the Navy, but frustrated that the service, the Department of Defense
and other government
In his darkest thoughts, Albano thinks Speicher may have been captured and held prisoner for a couple of years.When the Iraqis found out the United States knew what happened, they executed him.
"Saddam Hussein is, from what I understand, he's basically whacked in the head and he's a trophy keeper,'' Albano said. "That would be my worst thought . . . here's my first capture and that's my trophy.''
One time, Albano offered a more benign theory to a superior. Speicher had a dark complexion, and if he grew facial hair he could have blended in pretty well. Maybe he slammed his head during the ejection, got amnesia and wandered around.
"That's a little bit ridiculous, Bano,'' his superior told him.
David Rowe, Spike's old high school and Florida
State friend, doesn't have any theories about what happened. Rowe still
lives in Jacksonville and works as an environmental consultant. At this
point, he's not even sure what to
When he first heard that Spike might have ejected, he thought about watching his friend pirouette off that oak tree and dive headfirst into Big Dismal Sink.
"I knew that Spike punched out,'' Rowe said. "I knew it, I knew it in my heart and soul that he had punched.''
But that leads, ultimately, to the idea that Speicher landed, lived and was captured. Rowe can't stand to carry that any further.
"Oh, that's hurtful. I mean, I want my friend to have survived, but to think what he's been through . . . ''
Timothy Connolly left the Pentagon in 1996 and
is waiting on paperwork to allow him to teach middle school social studies.
To this day, he is the only deputy assistant secretary of defense for special
operations who served in
"My view is, right now, that I could not tell you with any degree of certainty that if you are either captured or fall behind enemy lines that the U.S. will go and get you,'' he tells them.
He still thinks the Pentagon blew it when Secretary
of Defense William Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili
refused to covertly search Speicher's crash site. Intelligence agents could
have worked the
Over the years, Connolly pieced together his own theory:
Speicher ejected, got hurt and left an evasion
symbol near the crash site. Then he fled. He was captured by Bedouins,
who turned him over to Iraqi military forces. Connolly's unit during the
war seized an air force base, so
He figures the reservists took Speicher and turned him over to regular forces, around An Nasiriyah, where he was put in a hospital.
By the time the leaders in Baghdad found out they had an American pilot, Dick Cheney had already pronounced him dead. With nobody looking for him, they kept him.
Connolly admits his theory is patched together, but:
"That's as good a scenario as anyone could come up with that he had died, which was zero.''
For those who wonder whether Speicher could still be a captive, reports emerged from Iraq just two months ago that make it plausible:
Defectors who had been guards said Iraq had an
underground prison, below a grove of trees, betrayed only by an air duct
on the surface. They said Kuwaitis captured during the Iraqi invasion 11
years earlier were in the
Bruce Trenholm is still investigating flight mishaps for the Navy. As much as he's tried to move on to other cases, he can't get away from the Speicher investigation.
Every year or two, sometimes more often, government investigators will look him up and start asking questions.
"This thing grew this big head later,'' Trenholm
says of the case. ``I don't know what the big deal is. The guy was a lieutenant
commander in the Navy, no big deal, just a pilot, just doing his job like
every other pilot was, and he
But as hard-edged as the ex-Marine sounds, he, too, is spooked by what may have happened.
Last fall, while on assignment in Maryland, he took a late-afternoon drive toward Point Lookout. He saw a sign outside a restaurant advertising all-you-can-eat crabs for $15 and stopped in.
The waitress spread old newspapers on his table. He looked down at a USA Today from Jan. 21, 1991. There was a front-page story on Speicher. He tucked it away to keep and asked for more newspapers.
Trenholm still thinks Speicher ejected, probably was hurt and likely died of exposure on those cold January nights in the desert. But he doesn't know. He does know this:
"That man deserves, I don't care if it's his toenail,
deserves the right to have it buried on American soil, not on Iraqi soil.
His family and his kids have a right to say, `My father was buried HERE.'
A little mom, apple pie
Trenholm took one of his photos from the crash-site visit down to an aviators' bar in Pensacola, Fla. There on the wall, covered with pictures of jets, pilots and admirals, he hung a snapshot of the team at the crash site.
He wrote on it the name of the mission: "Operation Promise Kept.''
Whenever he goes to Trader Jon's, Trenholm looks at the picture and drinks a toast to Scott Speicher.
David Rowe was not surprised to find out that
his old friend had ejected. But it hurts to think Speicher might have been
held captive this long, Rowe said.. Buddy Harris knows he's in a weird
position: looking for his wife's
He started investigating Scott's disappearance before he and Joanne began dating, the two developed a bond, it just happened, he says.
When they first got together, the kids had a blast going through his old photos, shots of Buddy and Scott, Joanne and Scott, Buddy, Scott and Joanne.
Buddy figures he wound up with this role for a reason. He was put in the Pentagon, assigned to that original work group, kept informed for a reason.
"I think I'm the only one that can speak for Scott, because I know him,'' Buddy says. "Certainly, now at this point in time in my life, I know him better than anybody in the world.
"If I was over there and he had this information, there's no doubt in my mind that he would be continuing to push it and probably doing a better job.''
He avoids speculating on what may have happened to Scott. Until someone turns up evidence that Scott died, he'll press forward assuming that he's alive.
If he finds Scott, he knows there will be a media crush that will probably last for several years. His and Joanne's life, their kids' lives, would not be the same.
The only thing that has saved them from that so far, he says, is that Joanne has refused interview requests all along.
Buddy has decided that it's time to talk, to keep the pressure on. If it's possible, he wants to bring Scott home.
What would his family do then? People always ask.
First, Buddy says, they'd throw a party. The biggest welcome-home party ever.. Then they'd figure things out.
Victor Weedn's DNA work continued, and he set
up the first military identification program. If a pilot went down today
and a foreign country sent a pound of flesh, scientists could quickly compare
the flesh's DNA to the DNA
The Defense Intelligence Agency last year set up its own unit to investigate missing service members.
In May, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence agreed to formally investigate the intelligence community's work on the Speicher case.
A few months later, after Sept. 11, several of those agencies would be questioned over lapses similar to the Speicher investigation: Did they share information? How good were they at analyzing data? Could they oversee and critique their own work?
To Speicher's fellow pilots and others steeped in military culture, the one thing they can't understand is why the government took so long to react.
When it signed a treaty to end the war, the United States didn't put Speicher's name on a list of POWs. The government didn't officially ask Iraq for information on Speicher until January 2001.
Nor did the military search for him when he went down. And they waited two years to look after finding his jet.
Even the Iraqi government blames the American government for not accounting for the pilot sooner. It claims to know nothing about what happened to Speicher.
Barry Hull says he won't believe Speicher is dead until he sees some evidence. Without proof, he says, ''we still don't know.''
Sending Americans into combat in a foreign land requires loyalty and faith, from both ends of the pecking order. That's what bothers the pilots.
"That's part of the deal,'' Barry Hull says. "When I hang my ass out and go across the border, if I get shot down or something happens to me, I absolutely know, there is no question in my mind, those guys are going to do whatever they have to do to get me.
``If they know in their minds I am dead, well, they're probably not going to come get me. If it's three or four years later and they find out something different, they better get over there.
``And we had an opportunity to do it, and we made a conscious decision not to.''
Hull is now commander of a reserve unit, runs
Sunliner Tire and Auto Plaza in South Carolina and flies for American Airlines.
He's got a successful business, a pretty girlfriend, a good life, he says,
and at best Speicher is
He has often thought back to that first night
of the war. He can pop up one picture like it happened yesterday: sitting
in his Hornet at the fueling tanker, looking down into another pilot's
cockpit, thinking about the power
But not just that, the power of the country, to set up a fighting force that far from its shores, to help patrol the world.
He later asked others when they left the tanker, trying to figure out whom he had watched refuel. Eventually, he eliminated everyone he talked to.
That January night, looking into that cockpit, he had gotten his last view of Scott Speicher.
And all the power and agility of the Hornet, all the political and economic might of the United States, didn't help to save Spike. It hasn't helped to find him.
The same question that rattled the Saratoga after that first strike still can't be answered. Where's Spike?
Posted: 13 January 2001 Updated: 16 January 2001 Updated: 25 February 2002 Updated: 24 March 2002 Updated: 22 March 2003 Updated: 21 April 2003 Updated: 26 April 2003
Updated: 23 November 2003 Updated: 11 January 2004 Updated: 8 February 2004 Updated: 22 July 2004 Updated: 30 October 2004 Updated: 2 August 2009 Updated: 13 August 2009