Exclusive: Marines Who Rescued Downed Pilots in Libya Feared Hostile Fire

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The U.S. Marine Corps launched its standard TRAP Mission (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel) to rescue the pilots, sending two Ospreys, two CH-53E helicopters and two Harrier jets. The Harrier jets launched first to patrol the skies over the downed pilot and the helicopters carried 35 marines to serve as perimeter protection if needed.

Initially, the pilot thought the pro-rebel villagers that had surrounded the scene of the crash were Gadhafi supporters, and requested that the Harrier jets drop two 500-pound bombs to prevent locals from getting close. The bombs were dropped in an area between the pilot and the villagers to serve as a warning.

The other pilot was rescued by locals in the village of Ghot Sultan. He was given food and water and returned to the U.S. military. Both pilots suffered only minor injuries and are undergoing physical and mental screening.

The F-15 aircraft, based out of the Royal Air Force Lakenheath base in northern England, was flying out of Aviano Air Base in Italy in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn when it went down. It was the first reported loss of a coalition aircraft during the conflict in Libya.

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