The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 65.0°F | Overcast

Rescued Pilot Had Training, Gear to Survive for Days

By Dana Priest
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Capt. Scott F. O'Grady fell from the sky with sophisticated military training in his head and a special "Evasion Chart" in his vest pocket.

Made of waterproof, tear-resistant lightweight material, the 3-foot-by-5-foot map of northwestern Bosnia doubled as a survivalist how-to manual.

Typed on the margins was advice that might have helped keep O'Grady alive during his six days on the ground, notably a list of local edible plants: wild onions, common dandelions, licorice root, nettle.

It even included cooking and do-it-yourself instructions. For nettle, "Eat the young leaves after boiling. Cooking neutralizes the plant toxins. Fibrous bark of the mature plants can be twisted and braided into a strong twine."

Basic to the Air Force's Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape (SERE) training that had prepared O'Grady for this day, the "Evasion Chart" was itself also a piece of survival equipment.

It reminded him that "Other Uses For This Map" included: To catch rain for drinking water. For shade from wind and rain. To haul water or food. To line a hole or depression for storage. To wrap clothing. As an extra layer of clothes. To splint a broken wrist. To plug a chest wound.

But perhaps the most important thing he carried with him, said Lt. Col. John Chapman, Commander of the Joint Services Survival, Evasion, Rescue and Escape Agency, was the will to survive.

"It becomes a mind game," said Chapman. "You're only limited by your imagination."

As a SERE training school student, O'Grady had been left cold and hungry in the mountains of northeast Washington state, near his home in Spokane. During the three-week course he learned to eat black ants and grasshoopers (to be singed first to remove bacteria), to bounce the sun's rays off a mirror and back onto a target, to make tools from branches and shelter from earth.

He learned how to relieve boredom and keep his hopes up. He was taught "to think positive things," said Chapman. From the experience of former captives and lost airmen, O'Grady learned "to play entire rounds of golf and chess" in his mind.

"He learned his lessons well and then executed his lessons when it mattered most," Adm. William Owens, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Thursday. He acknowledged that little was known yet about exactly what O'Grady did to survive after his F-16C was downed by Bosnian Serbs.

But it seemed likely that the two basic F-16 pilot survival kits helped O'Grady to get along on the ground, and to bring himself to the attention of rescue aircraft without being captured.

One kit was embedded in the seat of his F-16 and attached to a 30-foot rope. It contained a survival radio, a handgun, signal flares and mirror, a first aid kit and compass, whistle, water and distress radio beacon. The other kit, which he wore in his vest, had the battery-powered PRC-112A radio he is known to have used to contact search teams flying overhead. In the vest were another distress beacon and signal mirror, a first aid kit and compass, as well as face paint and camouflage.

Detail are not yet known of what O'Grady did to try to make contact with the skyful of fighter jets and surveillance planes he must have known were flying overhead 24 hours a day with electronic monitoring equipment, radar and high-resolution aerial cameras.

The light, hand-held survival radio can be switched from a signal transmitter to a voice transmitter by the pilot. The voice transmitter is usually switched on only when a downed pilot can actually see a search or rescue plane.

O'Grady also carried in his vest kit a "Global Positioning System Receiver," a kind of a worldwide compass that allows him to know where he is. If the GPS remained functional after he landed, the information from it would have been vital to letting others locate him and carry out the kind of quick rescue operation that whisked him to safety as the sun was dawning Thursday morning.

Defense officials said U.S. pilots had been picking up what Owens described as "very random kinds of pieces of information" that could not be definitively tied to O'Grady most of this week. It was during this period that Air Force Chief of Staff Ronald Fogleman let it slip at a Pentagon ceremony that some signals were being picked up from the ground.

A day later Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon insisted no signals were being received.