Thousands Flock For Burial of Pilot Shot Down In Libya
UTUADO, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Thousands of relatives, friends and Air Force officials flocked Sunday to the small, mountainous town of Utuado for the funeral of the Puerto Rican pilot whose plane was shot down during a U.S. raid on Libya.
The remains of Air Force Maj. Fernando Ribas Dominicci, 33, arrived in Puerto Rico on Friday, three years after his plane was shot down in the Libyan attack.
″It is a miracle. For three years I prayed to Jesus Christ to return my son,″ said the pilot’s tearful mother, Teresa Dominicci de Ribas. ″I asked ‘where is he, who has him?’ And although I never personally got an answer, he returned.″
During the half-hour ceremony at the hillside San Andres de Utuado cemetery, four F-111 bombers, the type Ribas Dominicci piloted, flew over the small town, about 35 miles west of San Juan.
The airman’s wife, Blanca Berain, held their 7-year-old son’s hand and wept as the bombers flew in a ″Missing Pilot″ formation.
Thousands flocked to the cemetery for the service and police said they couldn’t estimate the size of the multitude, which appeared to be slightly less than half the size of Utuado’s 30,000 population.
Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Carl Smith and Gen. Sam Westbrook, commander of the Lakenheath base in England where the pilot was stationed, gave eulogies.
″Fernando belongs to history. He returns as an example to all, to inspire us about what to be and what to do,″ said Westbrook in his eulogy. ″He is a true heroe, an exemplary model for all.″
Westbrook said he would ask that Ribas Dominicci be awarded the Silver medal, one of the highest awards recognizing bravery in combat.
Libya initially had identified the body as that of the other pilot killed in the raid, Capt. Paul Lorence, 31, of San Francisco. Both men were in the same F-111 bomber that was lost during the U.S. raid on Tripoli and Benghazi. An estimated 40 Libyans were killed in the raid.
The body was returned during a period of international debate over a Libyan plant the United States says can produce chemical weapons, and nine days after U.S. fighters shot down two Libyan jets over the Mediterranean.