Monday, August 3, 2009

Scott Speicher Found

I'm not positive but I think I wrote about Scott Speicher in my old blog. Scott was a Hornet pilot shot down in the first Gulf War, who is the only missing servicemember ever to have their status changed from "Killed in Action-Body Not Recovered" (KIA-BNR) to "Missing in Action" (MIA). Subsequently his status was changed to "Missing-Captured", which I believe means there was evidence he was captured alive and held by the Iraqis.

His remains were located yesterday, however, near where his aircraft was shot down, and it appears one of the earliest stories about his fate was the correct one: he died shortly after ejecting from his F/A-18 - whether due to injuries sustained when he was shot down, or inflicted after he landed by the Iraqis, and was buried in the desert near the aircraft crash site.

Resolution of the Speicher case follows many years of changing stories and uncertainty about his fate. Originally the Navy reported he had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile, but later a declassified CIA document said he was probably shot down by an Iraqi MiG - a version of the story later supported by CDR Bob Stumpf, who I believe was there. "Stumpy" said that other members of Speicher's strike group saw the MiG-25 and requested permission (from a US Air Force AWACS) to engage, but were denied, and shortly thereafter they saw a fireball now known to have come from Speicher's aircraft.

CDR Stumpf also said he believed Speicher may have been captured and held by the Iraqis, but was inexplicably declared killed only hours after the engagement by then-Secretary-of-Defense Dick Cheney. He said that it might have been that a potential search-and-rescue operation was aborted because the position was that "SECDEF said he was dead, so why go look for him".

In the years that followed, various tantalizing clues emerged that Speicher may have survived the ejection and been captured, which ultimately led to his status being changed to MIA then outright "captured". Some of the most compelling of these clues came from the 1995 inspection of the aircraft crash site, which proved Speicher had initiated ejection from the aircraft prior to impact, and that the Iraqis had tampered with the aircraft wreckage, both shortly after the crash and shortly before the inspection. The Iraqis also inexplicably returned a flight suit, which appeared to have been Speicher's, which had also been tampered with. It seemed highly improbable that the Iraqis would come into possession of Speicher's flight suit without knowing what happened to the man wearing it.

It was expected that after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, further information would become available as to his fate, and that is what has finally happened. Perhaps ironically, it appears that the original story told by the Iraqis - that Speicher died at the crash site and was buried in the desert - appears to be true.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions - most notably how he died. Because he deliberately initiated ejection while still in the performance envelope for the ejection seat, the Navy estimated a 80-90% probability that he landed alive. It seems perhaps likely that he was murdered, perhaps while injured, by Iraqis after being captured alive. If that is the case, we still need to know the when, why and how.

Until those questions are answered we do not have final closure on the long, strange case of Scott Speicher's fate.

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