Gulf War Pilot's Remains Identified in Iraq After 18 Years

A team of US military investigators has found the remains of a jet pilot who was shot down in the opening hours of the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon said yesterday. This ends an enduring and painful mystery for Americans who feared he had been kept prisoner.

The remains of US navy Captain Michael 'Scott' Speicher were found in desert sands in Anbar province in western Iraq by military searchers acting on a July tip from a local Iraqi. The Iraqi told the US military that other Iraqis recalled a jet crashing into the desert sand and a group of Bedouins burying the deceased pilot, the Pentagon said in a statement, reports.

The Navy pilot, Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, was the only American missing in action from that war. Efforts to determine what happened to him after his F/A-18 Hornet was shot down by an Iraqi warplane on Jan. 17, 1991, had continued despite false rumors and scant information.

Conflicting reports from Iraq had, over the years, fueled speculation that the pilot, promoted to captain from lieutenant commander in the years he was missing, might have been taken into captivity either after parachuting from his jet or after a crash landing.

But the evidence in Iraq suggests he did not survive and was buried by Bedouins shortly after he was shot down, The New York Times reports.

In the meantime, his family issued a statement Sunday saying, "The news that Captain Speicher has died on Iraqi soil after ejecting from his aircraft has been difficult for the family, but his actions in combat, and the search for him, will forever remain in their hearts and minds," The Dallas Morning News reports.

The family also said they believe the controversy has led the military to be more vigilant about searching for soldiers' bodies: "Although nothing can fill the void left by Capt. Speicher's death, we find some solace in having transformed the search process, so that no serviceman or woman is ever, ever, left behind again."

President Obama called the news about Speicher "a reminder of the selfless service that led him to make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom," The Los Angeles Times reports.