“I’m telling you right now, don’t believe what you’re being told. It was that MiG that shot Spike down.”
– A pilot on the same mission as downed pilot, LCDR Scott Speicher, January 17th, 1991
Ordinarily, I’m rather loathe to pointing a spotlight at an adversarial aircraft that shot down one of our own, however, in the case of this particular incident I’ll make an exception due to its wide public nature at the time. Way back on January 17th, 1991, during the opening stages of Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi pilot, Lt. Zuhair Dawood, flying a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25PDS “Foxbat-A” interceptor, successfully downed a Coalition pilot by the name of LCDR Scott Speicher. LCDR Scott Speicher was flying an F/A-18 Hornet fighter, BuNo. 163484, from VFA-81 “Sunliners”, when he was shot down 100 miles west of Baghdad, on the first night of Operation Desert Storm. His plane crashed in a remote, uninhabited wasteland known as Tulul ad Dulaym. He was the first combat casualty for American forces in the war.
The U.S. Navy maintained in a 1997 document that Speicher was downed by a surface-to-air missile. A pilot on the same mission stated: “I’m telling you right now, don’t believe what you’re being told. It was that MiG that shot Spike down.” Subsequently, in an unclassified summary of a 2001 CIA report suggests that Speicher’s aircraft was shot down by a missile fired from an Iraqi aircraft, most likely a MiG-25, flown by Lieutenant Zuhair Dawood, attached to the 84th squadron of the Iraqi Air Force. Speicher was at 28,000 feet and travelling at 0.92 Mach (540 Knots) when the front of the aircraft suffered a catastrophic event. The impact from the R-40 missile threw the aircraft laterally off its flight path between fifty and sixty degrees with a resulting 6 g minimum load.
LCDR Speicher was initially listed as a probable MIA but later changed to KIA, on May 22nd, 1991, several months after the end of the Gulf War. Sadly, Speicher’s status was changed to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered (KIA/BNR). Navy Commander Buddy Harris, who was a friend and fellow naval aviator of Speicher’s, became a strong advocate for searching for Speicher, often meeting with U.S. officials. On August 2nd, 2009, some 18 years following his status change, the Navy reported that Speicher’s remains were found in Iraq by United States Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines belonging to Multi National Force-West’s Task Force Military Police and Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 belonging to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. His jawbone was used to identify him after study at the Charles C. Carson Center for Military Affairs at Dover Air Force Base. According to local civilians, Speicher was buried by Bedoiuns after his plane was shot down. Senator Nelson attributed the delayed finding to the culture of the locality: “These Bedouins roam around in the desert, they don’t stay in one place, and it just took this time to find the specific site.”