The key to rescue
Never underestimate the power of a radio in military emergencies. On Jan. 17, 1991, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher was shot down over Iraq and was never found. He was considered the first Gulf War casualty. Although he was declared killed in action in May 1991, the U.S. military had never searched for him. 60 Minutes II picked up the story and aired an updated report in September 2000.
Speicher’s F-18 had crashed two hours after Operation Desert Storm began. According to Adm. Stan Arthur, commander of the Allied Naval Forces in the Persian Gulf, the “airplane disintegrated on impact; no contact with the pilot; we really don’t believe that anyone was able to survive the impact.”
“No contact” were the key words. The military assumed Speicher was dead because he didn’t check in, and witnesses reported seeing his plane explode.
But in 1993, an army general from Qatar who was hunting for falcons stumbled across an American F-18 in the Iraqi desert. When the Americans finally investigated, they found a jet that had not disintegrated, the canopy (which ejects with the pilot), spent flares and parts of a survival kit. A tattered flight suit was also found.
Based on “intelligence information from several sources,” the Navy changed Speicher’s status to missing in action in January.
The Iraqis said that Speicher did not eject from his plane and that parts of the plane were found at the site with “evidence the pilot was killed.” An Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman said “The American authorities … have announced a new lie concerning an American pilot in order to create a new problem with Iraq,” according to a Reuters report.
The whole situation has now exploded into a volley of statements from Iraq and the United States about what has been found and what hasn’t been found.
The big question is, if he survived the crash, why didn’t he send a rescue call on his radio? Pilots are drilled on the importance of keeping their radios with them at all times during crashes.
According to CBS’s report, however, minutes before Speicher took off, the pilots had been given new radios. These radios were larger than the previous models and didn’t fit into the vest pocket that had held the earlier models. So he could have lost his radio.
In January 1999, Speicher’s wife filed suit against Motorola. According to a story published in the Florida Times-Union by John Fritz, the widow alleged that Speicher survived the crash and was left for dead when his radio failed. Her lawyers contended that the Motorola AN/PRC-112 had a track record of problems and that some pilots refused to fly with it.
It cannot be proved that the radio failed. However, it can be proved that the key to getting rescued is the radio. Whether you are climbing into a patrol car or an F-18, new equipment should be tested and its users should be trained. Your safety depends on the ability to communicate and to communicate easily. The radio might end up being a lifeline for a firefighter or an American soldier.