U.S. Captain Returns Home to Hero's Welcome

Maersk Capt. Richard Phillips praises U.S. Navy, says "I'm not the hero."

April 17, 2009 — -- The U.S. captain of the Maersk Alabama, who was rescued from the hands of Somali pirates Easter Sunday, received a hero's welcome as he arrived home in Vermont Friday.

After a 7,500 mile flight from Kenya, Capt. Richard Phillips touched down on familiar ground and was greeted by hugs from his wife, Andrea, two children, Mariah and Daniel, and other relatives in a heartfelt reunion at the airport.

Just five days ago, 53-year-old Phillips was held hostage on a lifeboat, where three Somali pirates held rifles to his head.

Phillips paid tribute to the U.S. Navy snipers aboard the USS Bainbridge who shot down all three pirates simultaneously and saved him.

"The first people I want to thank are the SEALs. They're the superheros. They're the titans. They're impossible men doing an impossible job, and they did the impossible with me," Phillips said in a short statement.

"I'm not the hero, the military's the hero," he said. "Thank them whenever you see them...God bless America."

Phillips also applauded the work of his crew members, who fought off the pirates and defended their ship.

"We did it. We did what we were trained to do," he said.

Phillips then headed home to his small town of Underhill, Vt., population 3,000, where pride for the hometown hero is overflowing. Handmade "Welcome Home Captain Phillips" signs awaited his arrival.

"It's been quite a whirlwind for this little town over the last week," said the Rev. Rick Danielson, Phillips' pastor.

During the ordeal at sea, the town hung ribbons as symbols of support. After his rescue, huge banners were rolled out. Family and friends have prepared all the comforts of home for Phillips. One friend made chicken pot pie, according to the Associated Press, and his mother-in-law made brownies.

"He'll be the same Richard as he was when he left," said Tim Smith, a Phillips family friend. "And he'll have great stories."

The family, which covets its privacy, is eager to spend time together and to return to normal life.

"This is truly one of the happiest moments of our lives having Richard home," Phillips' wife, Andrea said at the Burlington airport. "I have always been proud to call myself American -- today I'm even prouder."

Inside the Five-Day High Seas Standoff

The U.S. crew of the Maersk Alabama safely arrived home Thursday to cheers and fanfare at Andrews Air Force base outside Washington.

In an exclusive interview, the U.S. crew of the Maersk Alabama that fought off Somali pirates last week told "Good Morning America" that they had no regrets about the pirates' deaths, because they got greedy and took the ship's captain.

"I gave these guys 100 chances to take what they want and go," said Shane Murphy, the Maersk Alabama's second-in-command. "People ask, did they get what they deserve? Human life is human life, but these people had so many opportunities."

"But they got greedy ... at the last second, they changed on us," he said of the pirates, three of whom, seen in pictures provided exclusively to "Good Morning America," were shot to death by Navy snipers.

Murphy and third mate Colin Wright said the barefoot Somali pirates were given a "million chances" to leave. But instead, in a moment that was not planned or calculated by any of the Americans onboard, the four Somali pirates took Capt. Richard Phillips instead.

"They meant business, very scary," Wright said. "I was told that the color went from my face, and I'm sure it did."

Murphy and Wright told "GMA" that when the crew managed to capture one of the pirates in all the confusion early on, they'd planned on being able to offer him as incentive for the other pirates to leave the ship.

The pirates, who took food and fuel that the crew had diluted, seemed to be agreeable to the plan, the men said. But at the moment the exchange was supposed to take place, disaster struck -- Phillips was still on the lifeboat. And the crew, thinking of their families and children, had no idea what was to come next.

"They didn't indicate anything was up," Murphy said of the pirates. "They were going to go."

Maersk Ship Pirate Attack and Captain Rescue

The captain was even taking the time to show them how to run the boat, he said, but "it kind of slowly deteriorated and something started not to feel right and suddenly reality set in."

Murphy of Seekonk, Mass., took command of the ship when the pirates seized Phillips.

Despite what has been reported in the media, it was not Phillips' plan to go willingly with the pirates, who had him trapped on the lifeboat.

"That was something that didn't go as planned," Murphy said. "You have to realize, this was after a 13-hour ordeal. There was physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion."

So for the next four days, the crew waited along with the rest of the world.

"It was terrible," Wright of Galveston, Texas, said. "We wanted our captain back and didn't feel right until we had our captain, until we found out he was safe aboard the Navy vessel."

After a five-day standoff, three Navy snipers took advantage of the pirates' momentary carelessness and shot all three dead simultaneously. A fourth had left the boat before the shooting.

A reunion of Phillips and his crew was delayed when the destroyer USS Bainbridge that was carrying the captain to Mombasa, Kenya, was diverted because another U.S. crew was attacked by pirates Tuesday. The Liberty Sun managed to evade the pirates.

Wright said the experience won't keep him off the water, but he hopes action will be taken to stop it from happening again.

"I hope to be able to sail all of the waters of the world in safety," he said. "And we've got to do something about pirates."

After news of Phillip's release Sunday, the crew members celebrated with beer and a barbecue Monday night.

"This crew was lucky to be out of it with every one of us alive," Murphy said in a brief news conference last week. "We're not going to be that lucky again.

"And just for the record, we never had to fight to take our ship back. We never surrendered our ship."

Phillips refused the title of hero and said his Navy rescuers are "the real heroes."

The Maersk Alabama was in Somali waters because it was carrying food aid to hungry people in Africa, including Somalia.

ABC News' Jim Sciutto, Martha Raddatz, John Hendren, Jake Tapper and Jason Ryan contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press