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Report suggests missing pilot alive in Iraq

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

Navy pilot Scott Speicher was shot down on the first day of the Gulf War.
Navy pilot Scott Speicher was shot down on the first day of the Gulf War.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States in recent months has received another intelligence report suggesting U.S. Navy Capt. Scott Speicher is alive in Iraq, but intelligence sources emphasize they have not corroborated the information and have nothing to indicate it is accurate.

The report closely parallels that received in the past but has never been verified, sources said Friday. Intelligence generally has indicated Speicher is alive and has been moved among various locations in the 12 years he has been held in Iraq.

Speicher, then 33, was piloting a Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet when enemy fire shot it down January 17, 1991 -- the first day of the Persian Gulf War. He subsequently was declared the war's first combat death, but the U.S. Navy changed his status to missing in action in 2001 after receiving information that he may have survived.

His status was changed a third time in October to missing-captured.

In a memorandum announcing the change, Navy Secretary Gordon England said the decision was based on the following factors:

• Analysis of the wreckage concluded that 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 that the cockpit had been expertly dismantled.

• Cumulative information received since Speicher was shot down continues to suggest strongly that the Iraqi government can account for him.

The Navy secretary said in the memo that the evidence did not prove whether Speicher was alive or dead.

"While the information available to me now does not prove definitively that Capt. Speicher is alive and in Iraqi custody, I am personally convinced the Iraqis seized him sometime after his plane went down," he said in the October memorandum.

The Speicher family and congressional members are to be briefed on the most recent report. A briefing is routinely done when new information is received. Intelligence sources said the information will be checked out, but they said they have no reason to believe it is true.

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