On January 17, 1991, LCDR
Michael Scott Speicher climbed into the cockpit of his F/A-18 Hornet, preparing
to fly one of the first missions of the just-declared Gulf War, Operation Desert
Storm. An accomplished Navy pilot, Speicher had years of flight
experience, and had more carrier landings than anyone else in his squadron. This
night was one that he had trained his entire Navy career for. But fate stepped
in, and a little more than three hours after he was catapulted off the deck of
his aircraft carrier the USS Saratoga, Lieutenant Commander Michael Scott
Speicher fell out of the sky.
is a timeline of events:
Jan 17, 1991:
Speicher, piloting an F/A-18 Hornet from the carrier Saratoga, is
apparently shot down by an Iraqi fighter jet during a bombing run over
west-central Iraq. Dick Cheney, then defense secretary, announces at a press
conference that he was killed, the first American casualty of the war. The Navy,
however, lists his status as missing in action.
The Iraqis give the United States 1.5 pounds of human flesh they say are
the remains of a pilot named “Mickel,” but DNA tests prove it isn’t
May 22, 1991:
The Navy accepts the initial “finding of fact” that Speicher is dead
and officially declares him killed in action. He posthumously will be promoted
July 4, 1992:
In Jacksonville, Speicher’s wife, Joanne, marries Albert “Buddy” Harris
Jr., a pilot and close friend of Speicher’s from the Navy. Harris has since
become Speicher’s biggest advocate, regularly meeting with U.S. military
1993: A senior military officer from Qatar, hunting in western
Iraq, stumbles upon the remains of a U.S. jet. He takes pictures, including
several that show the plane’s canopy had landed some distance from the plane,
suggesting the pilot may have ejected. He gives the U.S. Embassy the photos and
several parts of the plane, which is identified as Speicher’s.
Acting on that information, a U.S. spy satellite photographs a
“man-made symbol” at the crash site. Some military officials believe the
symbol shows Speicher may have survived the crash.
The U.S. military plans to send a covert team to the crash site. Army
Gen. John Shalikashvili, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vetoes the
plan, saying it was too risky. The Pentagon instead asks the International
Committee of the Red Cross for help.
1995: The Red Cross reports that Iraq will cooperate, but
bureaucratic problems in Iraq delay the trip.
1995: Accident specialists from the Defense Department and
representatives from the Red Cross visit the crash site. They find it has been
excavated, and find no ejection seat or bones. Bedouin nomads hand the team a
flight uniform, which is later identified as likely Speicher’s. But Navy
investigators find “minimal weathering and adherent soil,” leading them to
believe the Iraqis planted the suit.
Tests also showed the suit -- and the pilot in it -- were probably not in the
plane when it landed. That other evidence leads the Navy to believe Speicher
likely ejected. Iraq maintains Speicher died in the crash or was eaten by
2001: President Clinton and the Navy change his status to
missing in action, based on classified reports that indicate he ejected safely.
There are unconfirmed reports from Iraq that he is in custody, that he walks
with a limp and has facial scars.
2002: The Navy changes Speicher’s status to
missing/captured, saying there’s no evidence the officer is dead. “While the
information available to me now does not prove definitively that Capt. Speicher
is alive and in Iraqi custody, I am personally convinced the Iraqis seized him
sometime after his plane went down,” Navy Secretary Gordon England wrote in
his explanation. “Further, it is my firm belief that the government of Iraq
knows what happened to Capt. Speicher.”
Speicher’s classmates from the Forrest High School class of 1975 form Friends
Working to Free Scott Speicher, to raise awareness about their friend and apply
political pressure for answers from Iraq.
The United States and Britain invade Iraq.
U.S. troops, acting on a tip, find Speicher’s initials, MSS, on the wall of a
cell in Hakmiyah prison in Baghdad. Informers tell the Associated Press he was
kept there off and on in the mid 1990s.
A team of military experts is assigned to look for Speicher or for
evidence that he was ever held by the Iraqis. Speicher’s initials also are
found on a post at another detention center.
2004: Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, sends Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld a letter asking why he never authorized the $1-million reward
for information about Speicher that Congress had authorized and funded last
year. The letter urges Rumsfeld to reconsider. So far, Rumsfeld has not