Seven officers involved in the accidental shooting down of two U.S. Army helicopters over Iraq last year are receiving administrative pun-ish-ments that could mean an end to their Air Force careers, a Pentagon official says.
However, the seven - two F-15 pilots, three crew members of an Air Force AWACS radar command and control aircraft that was in the area and two brigadier generals - are not being fired or accused of criminal acts, said the official, who spoke Monday on condition of anonymity.The April 14, 1994, accident killed 26 people. The punishments were to be announced publicly Tuesday, officials said.
Gen. Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff, decided that the two F-15 pilots - Lt. Col. Randy May and Capt. Eric Wickson - would be barred from flying duties for at least three years.
That effectively ends their careers as Air Force fighter pilots, although they could remain in the service in other jobs, the officials said.
Fogleman ordered that three members of the AWACS crew also be grounded for at least three years, the officials said. Among them was Capt. Jim Wang, who in June was acquitted by a military jury in Oklahoma of criminal charges stemming from the incident.
Also grounded were Capt. Joseph Halchi and Lt. Ricky Wilson, two other radar controllers aboard the AWACS plane, which never alert-ed the F-15 pilots to the fact that the U.S. helicopters were flying in the area.
In addition to the groundings, Fogleman also wrote highly critical "letters of evaluation" on the two F-15 pilots, the three AWACS crewmen and two brigadier gen-er-als.
These letters are entered in the men's permanent personnel files and taken into consideration by promotion boards; in effect, it means the men are highly unlikely ever to receive another promotion.
The two generals receiving the critical letters were identified by The New York Times as Jeffrey S. Pilkington, the commander of the Air Force operation in northern Iraq from his headquarters in Incirlik, Turkey, and Curtis Emery II, who was a colonel at the time the aircraft was shot down.