WASHINGTON # U.S. military officials said Thursday a desert nomad in Iraq might be the last hope to learn what happened to Navy pilot Scott Speicher, shot down the first night of the Persian Gulf War 13 years ago.
The Iraq Survey Group, which in addition to searching for unconventional weapons is charged with hunting for Speicher, plans to send experts in the next day or so to the area where Speicher crashed to search for the Bedouin tribesman.
It is believed this is the time of year the tribe regularly moves through the area.
Several U.S. military officials confirmed the essential details of this latest search.
Sources said the hope is the tribesman will be able to provide details about intelligence gathered since Speicher’s F/A-18 was shot down January 17, 1991.
The information indicates a Bedouin might have recovered and buried the body of an American, and has a pistol that might have belonged to Speicher.
The sources emphasized this information has been circulating for several years but they have not been able to get into the region to look for the man until now.
Intelligence officials are split, however, on whether the man will have details that could actually lead to Speicher’s body.
At least one senior intelligence official told his staff he is “hopeful” because the Bedouin are not likely to lie, even to Americans. But others are more skeptical, according to sources.
In January 2003, a report from the Navy was made public indicating reasons Speicher might be alive. The report focused on these factors:
• Analysis of the wreckage concluded Speicher survived the initial damage to the aircraft and ejection.
• The flight suit found near the wreckage and turned over by the Iraqis showed no signs of a crash impact, as it would have if the pilot had been in the plane when it hit.
• The Red Cross team that investigated the wreckage reported the cockpit had been expertly dismantled.
• Cumulative information received since Speicher was shot down continues to suggest strongly that the Iraqi government could account for him.
There have been numerous reports about the fate of the pilot, but there has been no solid evidence to indicate what happened to him.
Initially the Navy declared Speicher the Gulf War’s first combat death and his status was listed as “killed in action.” Eventually his status was changed to “missing in action.”
In October 2002, Navy Secretary Gordon England signed an order to change Speicher’s status a third time from “missing in action” to “missing-captured.” Speicher was promoted to captain that same year.