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Thunderbolt Over Baghdad, 'Pilot-Dude' Down in the Countryside

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2003 – Air Force Maj. Jim Ewald had just finished a close-air support mission over Baghdad when his A-10 Thunderbolt II was hit by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile April 8. It physically moved the plane "like the hand of God," Ewald said during a Pentagon interview July 16.

Ewald is a pilot with the 110th Fighter Wing out of Battle Creek, Mich.

The surface-to-air missile came up from the southwest, and Ewald said he never saw it. But he had no doubt a missile had hit him. "I could see a reddish glow on my cockpit instruments from the fire behind me," he said. His second thought was that he had not been wounded.

It was then that the airplane departed from controlled flight. "That's just the way we say I was trying to fly the airplane one way, but the airplane was off doing its own thing," the Michigan Air Guardsman said.

Ewald was soon able to regain control. "I was very fortunate to be flying this mission in an A-10, because had I not, I would have bailed out right there," he said. "My next thought was 'I don't want to bail out right over Baghdad or I'm going to be in it deep.'"

He and his wingman headed out of Baghdad and sought American lines. "It was physically hard (to fly the plane), Ewald said. "I was manipulating everything with all the muscles in my body. I had flight control problems, I had engine problems, I had fuel-flow problems, I had hydraulic problems not to mention that I had an airplane that was disintegrating. I looked back once and I could see little parts falling off the engine and I thought, 'I really don't know what that is, but I think I need it.'"

As he continued south, he lost one of the engines completely and he ejected. "The ejection seat was packed by one of my new best friends out of Boise, Idaho, and it worked perfectly," Ewald said.

After he hit the ground, he mistook the 30 mm rounds cooking off in the airplane for incoming Iraqi fire. He ran to hide in a dried canal behind some reeds. He heard engine noise, and hoped that the vehicle was American. "I knew the 3rd Infantry Division had been in the area, but I didn't know if it was still there," Ewald said.

There was Fedayeen Saddam paramilitary still running around, he said, and he couldn't see very well. "I heard one yell in English, but I thought maybe this guy went to language school," Ewald said. "Then I heard another voice yell in English, 'Hey, pilot dude. Come out. We're Americans.'"

There was no mistaking the accent, he said. "He sounded like your typical 19-year-old American," the pilot-dude said. "I thought that's something you don't learn in language school."

The soldiers were from the Army's 54th Engineer Battalion, and they had seen Ewald eject. They arrived some 10 to 15 minutes after he hit the ground, he said.

Ewald went back to the 110th and was back into the cockpit in 48 hours.

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