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O'Grady calls rescuers who saved American pilot 'heroes'


March 30, 1999
Web posted at: 1:01 a.m. EST (0601 GMT)

SALT LAKE CITY (CNN) -- Capt. Scott O'Grady, whose F-16 was shot down over Bosnia four years ago, applauded the rescuers who plucked an American fighter pilot out of Yugoslav territory after his F-117A Nighthawk went down near Belgrade over the weekend.

"The people...coming in to save you are the heroes," O'Grady said, speaking Monday from Salt Lake City on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"The victory is (the pilot) was able to get rescued. Whether it was a shoot-down or mechanical failure inside the aircraft really isn't the point. The fact is that one of our own was brought home safely," he said.

The pilot, whose name has yet to be released, has undergone medical examinations, is said to be in good condition at Aviano Air Base in northern Italy and is ready to fly again.

The pilot's plane went down about 30 miles west of the Yugoslav capital Belgrade on Saturday. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

O'Grady said he wasn't surprised the pilot is ready to jump back in the cockpit.

"The whole fact is you're a fighter pilot, you accept the risks," he said. "If things go wrong and you have to eject out of your aircraft, there's no fear in getting back into that airplane again. You're just happy to do so."

O'Grady added: "When I first got up in the air in an F-16 again, it was like being a little kid who was allowed to ride his bike again."

O'Grady's F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in June 1995 by a Soviet-made SA-6 mobile missile. He ate ants and hid from the Serbs for six days until U.S. Marines saved him in a dramatic rescue.

Asked if there is any sort of "scary thrill" when you eject from a plane, O'Grady said: "The scary thrill was when the missile hit about 10 feet behind my seat and the airplane was blowing up around me. So that ejection felt pretty good."

O'Grady flew for three years after the shoot-down and retired from the Air Force on June 8, 1998, three years to the date after his rescue.

He said NATO's Operation Allied Force was needed because Yugoslav President Slobodan "Milosevic is an evil man." O'Grady urged Americans to support their military personnel now in harm's way.

"If there's one thing I can get out tonight, it's that I hope everybody in America is supporting their troops in this endeavor because that was so inspiring to me in my time of need," he said.

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