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Monday, April 14

War provides no clues to fate of missing aviator

By Alex Neill | Army Times

DOHA, Qatar - Overshadowed by the joyful news of the rescue of seven American POWs is the sad story of a Navy pilot who disappeared in Iraq 12 years ago and whose fate remains a mystery.

Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher of Jacksonville, Fla., was shot down near Baghdad on Jan. 17, 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. Despite efforts in recent weeks to find Speicher, a Central Command spokesman said Monday that the current war has brought no new information about whether Speicher is alive or dead.

``We remain hopeful that we can recover our missing warrior, who's been gone since the (first) gulf war,'' Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said in response to a question during the daily press briefing here. ``We do not have any additional information, any leads.''

Speicher's status has been unknown ever since he launched from the aircraft carrier Saratoga in an F/A-18 Hornet and failed to return from a night mission into Iraq on the opening day of the 1991 war. The 33-year-old naval aviator has been listed as killed in action, missing in action and, since October 2002, as a prisoner of war.

Fresh questions were raised about him Sunday after U.S. Marines recovered seven soldiers who had been missing for nearly three weeks in the current war in Iraq.

Ten other U.S. and coalition troops remain missing in the current war, and Brooks said there is no new information on their whereabouts, either.

Some Navy fliers who were on the same mission as Speicher when he disappeared recalled a particularly bright explosion on the run near Baghdad. They thought Speicher was hit by an air-to-air missile and ejected. But there was no search, no rescue mission.

Speicher remains the only person unaccounted for from the Persian Gulf War.

On Jan. 11, 2001, then-Navy Secretary Richard Danzig changed Speicher's official status from killed in action to missing in action, reflecting evidence that suggests Speicher may have survived the shoot-down. His aircraft was later located in one piece and showed evidence that ejection had been initiated. No remains were found.

Taking into account the evidence of Speicher's possible survival and capture, the Navy changed his status to POW on Oct. 11, 2002.

Speicher was married with two children when he disappeared. Family and friends have kept steady pressure on politicians and Defense Department leaders to work to find him. Several web sites post up-to-date information on the case; one even sells T-shirts, caps, POW bracelets and other items to fund the effort.

``Maybe the Iraqi people will come forward with information,'' said Jim Stafford, Speicher's high-school friend and a board member of the Jacksonville-based Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher.

``This is probably our last, best chance to get resolution on it,'' Stafford said. ``We strongly believe Scott was alive before the war started, and we still have hope that we're going to get him back.''


On the Web:

www.freescottspeicher.com, the site maintained by Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher.