NATO Commander: Rescue Mission Came Under Fire
LONDON (AP) _ U.S. helicopters that flew into Bosnia this morning to rescue an American F-16 pilot shot down by Serb rebels came under missile and small arms fire, a NATO commander said.
Two Marine CH-53 helicopters landed 50 yards from Capt. Scott F. O’Grady, and he ran to one of them, said Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of NATO forces in southern Europe. Brig. Gen. (Sel.) Marty Berndt, who helped coordinate the rescue and was aboard the helicopter, hauled O’Grady aboard.
``Marty is a pretty strapping young guy,″ Smith said at a news conference at U.S. Naval Headquarters in London. ``He saw the pilot come running out of the woods, so he grabbed him and snatched him aboard and they got out of there.″
Berndt said a missile was fired at the helicopter after O’Grady was picked up, but missed, according to Smith. He said gunfire fire at the helicopters also missed.
Asked how O’Grady survived a six-day ordeal after being shot down, the admiral said, ``Whatever it was, it sure was right.″
``He maintained his cool,″ said Smith. ``He’s very smart, he’s very determined and very gutsy to have evaded for as long as he did using the equipment that he had.″
U.S. forces had been searching for the pilot since his F-16 plane was shot down Friday over Serb-controlled territory. The Pentagon says a Serb SA-6 missile slammed into its belly, cutting the plane in half.
O’Grady, of Spokane, Wash., was picked up 20 miles southeast of Bihac at about 6 a.m. (midnight EDT Wednesday).
Smith said a pilot from O’Grady’s squadron was flying an F-16 over the area at about 2:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday), when he received a radio call from O’Grady on the ground.
A rescue mission was launched at daybreak, said Smith.
``We had the whole shooting match up there,″ including Cobra helicopters, Harriers, AWACS radar planes and other support aircraft, Smith said.
O’Grady is back on his ship and ``the medical report is very good,″ the admiral said.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the pilot: ``I am told that he is well, that he has a six-day beard and that he has a small burn on the back of his neck as a result of exiting the aircraft.″