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PILOT SEEKING ANSWERS IN SAUDI BOMB TRAGEDY

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A pilot who recently returned from duty in the Middle East hopes the Saudi Arabians will figure out soon who is behind the June 25 terrorist bombing of the Al-Khobar Towers military complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Major Jim Hedges of the 34th Fighter Squadron added that he has "a little bit of a personal stake there."Meanwhile, he has learned what it's like to be on the other end of a 2,000-pound bomb, the size of the two bombs that his F-16 carries.

Hedges was injured in the Al-Khobar attack, which killed 19 American military members and injured 300 others. His cuts were not bad enough to require his leaving the Middle East early, however.

In late October, he was among 200 members of the squadron, part of the 388th Fighter Wing, who returned to Hill after patrolling the southern no-fly zone over Iraq.

Speaking at the Officer's Club on Tuesday, Hedges said he's read recent newspaper reports that Saudi authorities have detained dozens of suspects in the bombing, including the driver of the truck that carried the bomb. He'd like to know whom the terrorists were working for, "if they find those guys," he said.

The afternoon of the bombing, he was in his room in the Al-Khobar complex. The Hill contingent was in Building 125, which was about 650 feet from Building 131, which was devastated by the terrorists. Hedges happened to be ironing his uniform, as he planned to narrate a change-of-command ceremony the next day.

Hedges had three visitors: a married couple, Capt. David Thole and Capt. Joan Thole, and an operations officer. The others were seated and Hedges stood at the ironing board facing the big window that faced Building 131, sometimes practicing parts of his speech.

It seemed like slow motion, Hedges said, but in the space of two or three seconds there was an earthquake-like rumble followed by a blast that shattered the window, hurling glass, metal and concrete at 400 miles per hour through the apartment.

Joan Thole was badly hurt, especially her arm. Fragments of glass and metal were stuck in her book.

Hedges ran into another room and "threw on the helmet and flak jacket."

The explosion felt like it was about 50 feet away, and the group thought terrorists would start shooting rifle grenades into the windows. They all went into the apartment's bathroom, which had no windows, carrying Joan Thole.

Hedges "didn't realize I was bleeding so badly," he said.