How the 18-year mystery of a downed US pilot was solved

Iraqi Bedouins had buried the remains of the US naval aviator out of respect. They led Marines to the spot.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Navy Capt. Michael 'Scott' Speicher in 2002. The F/A-18 'Hornet' pilot was shot down over Iraq on the opening night of Operation Desert Storm in Jan. 1991. The Pentagon initially declared him killed, but uncertainty led officials over the years to change his official status a number of times to "missing in action" and "missing-captured."
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A Bedouin who was 11 years old when the US Navy jet crashed in the Iraqi desert helped steer a team of 150 Americans to the site where the remains of Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher were found late last month, some 18 years after his plane went down.

The Pentagon on Friday released new details of the search for Captain Speicher, who over the years was thought to be killed, missing, or captured after his plane was shot down the first night of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

The announcement earlier this week ended a mystery that has long captivated the American public and those in military circles, some of whom believed until now that the naval aviator was alive and being held somewhere in Iraq.

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After years of hits and misses, new clues, and dashed hopes, US investigators stumbled upon an Iraqi Bedouin earlier this summer who willingly discussed his knowledge of the crash site.

The Pentagon said Friday that the Iraqi, now about 30, remembered talking about the crash to other Bedouins who had first-hand knowledge of the incident but had no idea the US sought the information.

The Iraqi led a "personnel recovery team" to an area about 100 kilometers west of Ramadi in western Iraq to investigate two sites, one near where the aircraft was first discovered in 1993, and another, about two kilometers away, where the remains were found.

About 150 people, mostly US Marines, were involved in excavation at both sites over the course of seven days in late July. The remains were assessed to be Speicher's but were sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for confirmation and other tests.

On Aug. 2, DNA evidence from the remains was compared with DNA samples provided by family members. They were found to be a perfect match.

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