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Two U.S. A-10 jets spent eight hours in the air - refueling four times - and rattled an Iraqi truck with machine-gun fire before rescuing a Navy pilot downed behind enemy lines, military officials say.

The A-10 pilots said they strafed the truck - which was headed straight toward the downed A-6 "Intruder" flier - to allow a search-and-rescue helicopter to swoop in to pluck the pilot from the desert floor."We could not allow him (the truck) to be there," said Capt. Randy Goff, one of the A-10 "Warthog" pilots. "We couldn't take the risk."

Military officials did not release the identity of the rescued flier, nor was word immediately available on the fate of the second crew member of the two-seat, carrier-based bomber.

They said the pilot ejected into the featureless expanse of the desert after being hit by ground fire while taking part in the bombing of Iraq.

Goff, 26, from Jackson, Ohio, and Capt. Paul Johnson, 32, of Dresden, Tenn., members of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing from Myrtle Beach, S.C., spent more than eight hours in the air, refueling four times as they located the Navy pilot around midday and talked to him over the radio. A plan was devised to bring in the rescue helicopter.

"It is really exciting - the fact that you think the guy is going to get rescued," Goff said. "My mind was just rushing."

As the rescue helicopter neared the pre-arranged pickup spot, a large Iraqi truck drove into the area, apparently headed straight for the airman.

The two A-10s raked the vehicle with 30mm machine guns. The truck was left smoking and in flames as the helicopter arrived. The downed pilot broke from cover and ran to safety. It was the first time the two A-10 fliers saw him.

"The adrenalin was pumping for two hours after the pickup," Johnson said. "It's still pumping now."

When he returned to base there was a telephone message from the Navy pilot, Johnson said. "It's pretty much unprintable, but yes, he's real pleased," he said.


(Additional information)

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