Iraqi Falcon 50 & how it got away after hitting USS Stark
مرسل: الجمعة أغسطس 17, 2012 2:53 am
Everybody here heard about the USS Stark incident in the 17th of May, 1987, so I am not going into much details about that we already know. If however you know nothing about it then read its Wikipedia entry
The following is a summarized description about the incident from the Iraqi perspective. It is based on a small interview with one of the Iraqi crew on that Falcon 50.
First of all, the Falcon 50 that hit the USS Stark was originally a part of the Presidential Squadron that belonged to Saddam Hussein. It was sent back to France to be modified so it can carry the AM.39 Excoet anti-shipping missiles. So half of the Falcon 50's cockpit was converted into a Mirage F.1 cockpit. After that the airplane returned and was stationed in Saddam AB nearby Mosul.
Its crew consists of 2 pilots, one handles the Falcon 50 side and the other pilot handles the Mirage F.1 side. With 2 technicians (Master Sergeants) accompanying them. The Falcon 50 pilot is tasked with taking the airplane to the target and then the Mirage F.1 pilot takes control to hit that target then return the controls to the first pilot so he can pilot it back to home.
At that day we received information that there was a large naval target nearby the shores of Bahrain. However no more details were given about the nature of this target, usually they are oil tankers carrying Iranian oil.
The crew of that airplane was tasked with hitting that target, the airplane was loaded two AM.39 Exocet missiles and took off from Saddam AB, when they reached Basra they refueled the airplane and continued their way to the target. When they got nearby it at sunset the usual procedure was to start a radio silence, at that point they discovered that the target was in fact an American vessel.
Then a dilemma started inside the cockpit of the Falcon 50 among its crew, they didn't know what was the target until and so did their high command. And since they can't call their HQ back and inform them about the new development due to the radio silence, they have to decide whether to hit it or not right now. So they started to discuss both options. If they hit the American frigate then they might not survive because US Navy aircraft will shot them down not to mention that they will cause an International crisis between USA and their own country. If they don't then their commander might get very upset and court martial them to be shot because they disobeyed a direct military order. So they decided to fire their missiles at it anyway.
The airplane got closer to the frigate, and they did receive the ship's radio message where it identified itself to them and asked them for their identification but they didn't pay attention to it nor cared. First missile was fired, it hit the ship in its engine room but didn't detonate (but its fuel caused fires). The radio operator in the airplane reported that the Americans are sending SOS messages. Second missile was fired, it hit the ship and detonated.
Once they were done, they started to think how to get away alive from the US Navy fighters, the first pilot decided to ascend into a high altitude and asked the technicians to close the curtains of the jet's windows and open the internal lights to make an impression that they are carrying passengers back in the airplane. And asked everybody recite Sura al-Fatiha because they might die soon.
Suddenly a pair of USN F-14 Tomcats followed and surrounded them, one from their right and the other from their left. The Iraqi pilots could see the American counterparts sitting in their cockpits and vice-versa. The American formation leader pointed to the Iraqis by hand to open communication with him via radio and so they did. The American asked them: “What are you doing in this area? Where are you coming from and where to are you going?”. The Iraqi pilot answered: “We are Iraqis and we have VIPs from the Iraqi government on board”. Then the American asked: “And who are those VIPs?”. The Iraq replied shortly: “I can't tell you that, this is a state secret”.
The American pilot was apparently a bit suspicious but he couldn't do anything because all he was seeing is a civilian jet, so he ordered his wing man to go and both left. That's how the Iraqi Faclon 50 escaped a probable death. The airplane was refueled again in Basra and then continued its trip to Saddam AB. The next each pilot was awarded with 5000 Iraqi Dinars (equals to 30600 nowadays US Dollars) from the high command, and each technician was awarded with a Volkswagen Passat B1 salon car (called Brazili in Iraq because it was manufactured in Brazil) and were never punished for that incident. That was the first and last mission for this modified Falcon 50.
American losses were: 37 killed, 21 wounded and a damaged frigate. The ship was repaired later at the cost of $142 million. And was decommissioned in 1999 after serving in the Gulf War.