The following is an informal transcript of the combined-forces rescue operation to pick up Headhunter Capt Scott “Hoover” O’Grady after he was shot down over Bosnia on 2 June 1995. At the time, Hoover was flying Block 40 F-16s with the 555th “Triple Nickel” Fighter Squadron and was known as “Zulu.” His callsign the day he was downed was “Basher 52.” He and his flight Leader, another Headhunter, “Wilber” Wright, were patrolling an assigned area when Zulu’s plane took a direct hit from an SA-6 surface-to-air missile (SAM.) His F-16 broke in half and disappeared into the undercast clouds as it fell to earth. No chute was observed.
“It was a good day at Aviano! As you guys have no doubt heard, we rescued Scott “Zulu” O’Grady today after 6 days of E&Eing [escape & evading] in the Bosnia countryside. We had an idea that he was still out there but hadn’t had positive radio contact until about 0000Z this morning when Capt T.O. Hanford had some extra gas so he stayed in his CAP a little longer and tried to reach Zulu on the freq from the day of the shoot-down. After about 40 minutes of calls in the blind, T.O. started getting some suspect clicks on the mike. Finally, Zulu came up voice. T.O. didn’t have all the info from Zulu’s ISOPREP, so he came up with a quick way to verify it was indeed Zulu, although it sounded like Zulu recognized T.O.’s voice and called him by name (although the comm was weak since T.O. (Basher 11) was about 70 miles away). The comm went something like this:
“Basher 52 this is Basher 11… Basher 52, this is Basher 11, are you up on this freq?”
“This is Basher 52!”
“Say again, understand this is Basher 52.”
“This is Basher 52…I’m alive!”
“Say again, Basher 52, you are weak and unreadable, this is Basher 11…”
“This is Basher 52!”
“Basher 52, what squadron were you in at Kunsan?”
“Juvats! Juvats! Juvats! I’m alive!”
“Copy that, you’re alive! Basher52, sit tight and come back up at 15 past the hour.”
T.O. then started coordinating with Magic to pass words to the Deny Flight CAOC that he had positive radio contact with Basher 52. They replied that T.O. should pass the word “manana” to Basher 52. When he did, Zulu replied, “I want to get picked up tonight!” So T.O. passed that to the CAOC and the decision was made to press with a rescue. We were 2 hours before sunrise so it would be daylight but there was concern that word would get out to the press and every SA-6 in the AOR would be mobile and spiking us and the rest of the rescue package. So they went ASAP.
T.O. stayed airborne (now at the 4-hour point in his sortie. T.O. got high marks for wingman consideration for advising his wingman that is was a good time to take a piss on the way to the tanker—that video clip probably won’t make CNN), and the 510 FS Buzzard scrambled our alert guys (I was #2). Unfortunately, Vaughn “Slot” Littlejohn and I had just gone from 60 minute alert to 180 minute alert, and I had headed home to get some sleep. The phone rang at about 0255 (after about 10 minutes of sleep) telling me to get in there ASAP. I was back at the squadron in 15 minutes.
Before I was even in the door, our ADO, Phil “Psycho” Sever told me that we had positive radio contact, get dressed, step, crank, and taxi ASAP. I would meet “SLOT” in EOR whenever he made it in. We were in the air at about 0400L (1+05 from a dead sleep at home) loaded with 2xGBU-12s, slammers, 2xAIM-9Ms, a ALQ-131 pod, and 2 tanks (standard DF SCL). We swapped out with T.O. manning the CAP and staying in touch with Zulu every 15 minutes. A SEAD package was getting airborne as T.O. started his RTB. We had a plan with the F-18Ds (HARM shooters (kind of), with NVGs and WSO), EF-111s, and EA-6Bs to try and establish contact. But since we already had contact, the F-18s just did a recce run to get a fix on him and check the weather.
Meanwhile I was hanging out on Slot’s wing 70 miles away listening to the whole thing, ensuring my tape was on. Although I didn’t do anything, it was shit hot to listen to the entire mission unfolding. The helos were inbound, authenticating Zulu (they asked him what he was called in high school when he was drunk!) With a good ID they moved in, had Zulu pop smoke, and picked him up. The whole thing from the authentication to pick-up was about 10 minutes, although it seemed like an eternity. To hear comm like “Basher 52, we’ve got you in sight!” was pretty moving, especially after thinking for most of the week that Zulu was a mort (“Wilbur” Wright didn’t see a chute, no radio contact, etc). I’ve never been choked up in the jet before, but I was this morning.
Unfortunately they weren’t out of danger yet. We hit the tanker and when we came back up to Magic freq, the helos were about 13 miles from feet wet. Then I heard the escort chopper, Bull, say “Bud, impacts underneath you… SAMS IN THE AIR!!! SAMS IN THE AIR!!!” Luckily, they missed, although they took some small arms fire and apparently the gunner from Bull silenced that. About 10 minutes later, we heard that they were feet wet, then shortly after that they had “mother in sight” (their ship), two more bits of comm I’ll never forget.
So we got one of our own back. What a day! I wish we could have done more in the rescue, but it was almost entirely a Navy and Marine show (we and the mud-eagles were in the CAP) and they kicked ass! So don’t bad mouth the squadron and jarheads too loudly-they put on a good show today, and we’ve got a Viper driver back because of it….”
– Les “Zobe” Bell