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PANAMANIAN BASE BECOMES 1ST TARGET FOR STEALTH FIGHTER
F-117 FULFILLS MISSION TO STUN, DISORIENT

SHARE PANAMANIAN BASE BECOMES 1ST TARGET FOR STEALTH FIGHTER
F-117 FULFILLS MISSION TO STUN, DISORIENT

A thunderous roar and a huge light filled the sky at the Panamanian base in Rio Hato. The building rattled and shook.

Pedro, who thought he had too much to drink, later found out he was on the receiving end of the first attack by a U.S. Stealth fighter jet."I was sleeping with this bottle of dry rum," said Pedro, a civilian contractor with the Panamanian Defense Forces. "I woke trying to figure out what was causing the commotion, the rum or something else.

"Everybody was running around. Nobody seemed to know what to do which was kind of strange for a bunch of soldiers who supposedly were expecting a U.S. invasion."

It was Dec. 20, just before 1 a.m., and Pedro was spending the night at the base in Rio Hato, 80 miles southwest of Panama City.

What he saw was part of a coordinated attack to dismantle the regime of military strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

A unit of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division was dropping in to capture the Panamanian base, and the new supersonic Stealth F-117 had dropped two 2,000-pound bombs nearby in an effort to stun the base's defenders.

The building where he was sleeping shook and it "felt like the plane was passing just over the building," said Pedro, who was later captured by the invading U.S. troops.

He was released within a few days and spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on the condition he not be further identified for fear of reprisals.

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney acknowledged last week the use of the Stealth fighters in the Panama invasion. The U.S. military said the F-117 was used because it can bomb accurately and that 2,000-pound weapons were dropped to "stun and disorient."

They did.

"They were experimenting with us, I guess," Pedro laughed.

"We were disoriented. I looked outside. It was almost a full moon and I could see the shapes of the paratroopers coming down. Then the sky lit up and the helicopters started shooting up the place.

"We grabbed weapons and went out toward the woods. We saw the Cobra helicopters firing and flying over the area. Then the soldiers would come in and use loudspeakers to ask people to surrender.

"We came back closer to the barracks and all of a sudden I heard Americans saying we were there. They must have spotted us somehow.

"I was between the commander and the sergeant and the soldiers. I started moving and all of a sudden I was almost face to face with a soldier. I told him `I give up, don't kill me. I am a civilian.' "

"Then they tied me up. I spent the next 12 hours with the other prisoners . . . Then they moved us to Howard Air Base in Panama and the civilians were separated and we were treated a lot better."

"I cannot complain," he ended. "They even gave me some oxygen when I suffered an emphysema attack."