Downed Pilot Reported Rescued; Serbs Block Food for Peacekeepers
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Coming under a blast of missile and small-arms fire, a helicopter carrying a team of Marines flew into northwestern Bosnia before dawn today to rescue an American F-16 pilot shot down by rebel Serbs six days ago.
Capt. Scott F. O’Grady of Spokane, Wash., was found alive and well near the site where his plane went down southeast of Bihac in Serb-controlled territory.
Two Marine CH-53 helicopters landed 50 yards from the 29-year-old O’Grady, and he ran to one of them, said Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of NATO forces in southern Europe at a news briefing in London. Brig. Gen. (Sel.) Marty Berndt, who helped to coordinate the rescue and was aboard the helicopter, hauled O’Grady aboard.
A Serb missile had blown apart O’Grady’s fighter jet on Friday as he flew a mission in NATO’s operation Deny Flight, which bars flights over Bosnia.
The downing of his plane added to tensions last week over the abductions of hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers by Bosian Serbs retaliating for NATO air attacks on their ammunition depots.
Defense ministers of the 12 NATO countries were meeting today in Brussels, Belgium, to consider plans either to evacuate 22,500 embattled peacekeepers from Bosnia or send a heavily armed 10,000-member force to protect them.
U.S. forces had been searching for O’Grady since his F-16 plane was shot down Friday over Serb-controlled territory.
Smith said a pilot from O’Grady’s squadron was flying an F-16 over the area at about 2:30 a.m. today (8:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday), when he received a radio call from O’Grady on the ground.
After a positive identification, Smith ordered a Marine team and CH-53 and Cobra helicopters into the air from the USS Kearsarge in the Adriatic. They were escorted by F-18s and electronic warfare planes.
``We had the whole shooting match up there,″ including Cobra helicopters, Harriers, AWACS radar planes and other support aircraft, Smith said.
Berndt, who hauled O’Grady aboard, ``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 at the helicopters also missed.
O’Grady was flown to the Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship that has a 600-bed hospital, and the medical report is ``very good,″ Smith said. The pilot has made no comment to the media.
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.″
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.″
O’Grady is assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. He’ll be taken there from the Kearsarge, which is carrying members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit who were sent to the Adriatic from the Mediterranean on May 29 as tension escalated in Bosnia after Bosnian Serbs kidnapped hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers.
President Clinton placed a call to O’Grady’s parents in Seattle to share their happiness.
``All Americans rejoice with me at the successful rescue of Capt. Scott O’Grady tonight and join his parents in their relief after days of uncertainty and anguish,″ Clinton said in a statement the White House released to Gen. George Joulwan, commander in chief of the U.S. European command.
``Captain O’Grady’s bravery and skill are an inspiration,″ Clinton said. ``So are the bravery and skill of those who took part in the operation to rescue him. They are all American heroes.″