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US Navy Changes 'Missing' Status of Gulf War Pilot to 'Missing-Captured' - 2002-10-11

The U.S. Navy has changed the status of a Gulf War pilot from missing in action to "missing-captured." It is the latest twist in the case of Captain Michael "Scott" Speicher.

F-A18 pilot Michael "Scott" Speicher was shot down over Iraq on the opening night of the Gulf War in January 1991. He was originally considered "killed in action, body not recovered."

But in January of last year, the Navy changed his status to "missing in action" - a decision the Navy says was based on an absence of evidence that he died in the crash of his plane and the lack of any satisfactory accounting of his case from the government of Iraq.

Now Navy Secretary Gordon England says he believes "missing-captured" is a more appropriate category because he is personally convinced the Iraqis seized Captain Speicher after his plane went down.

He says study of the wreckage of the plane indicates Captain Speicher ejected successfully and notes that an undamaged flight suit was later found near the crash site.

He also says International Red Cross officials who visited the crash site determined there had been excavations around the wreckage and all significant debris removed.

Mr. England says "the cumulative information received since Captain Speicher was shot down continues to suggest strongly that the government of Iraq can account for him."

Mr. England says his decision does not mean the United States knows where Captain Speicher is or even whether he is alive. He says only Iraq can provide that information.

The announcement came the same day U.S. military officials announced yet another air-strike in southern Iraq - this time against a mobile surface-to-air missile site. The Pentagon says the missile site constituted what it terms a significant threat to the safety of U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the so-called no-fly zone in the south since the end of the Gulf War.