Military Wiki
Scott Francis O'Grady
Scott O'Grady (center) at a press conference after his being rescued by U.S. Marines.
Nickname "Zulu"
Born October 12, 1965(1965-10-12) (age 56)
Place of birth Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 1989–2001
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Other work Joint author of Return With Honor, and Basher Five-Two, speaker

Scott Francis O'Grady (born October 12, 1965) is a former United States Air Force fighter pilot who gained prominence after he ejected over Bosnia after his F-16C was hit by a missile fired from a Bosnian Serb SA-6 mobile rocket launcher on June 2, 1995, while he was patrolling a no-fly zone. He also participated in the Banja Luka incident where he fired upon one enemy aircraft. The 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines, is loosely based upon his experiences.

In September 2011, O'Grady announced a run for the 2012 Republican nomination for Texas State Senate District 8, held at the time by the retiring Republican Florence Shapiro,[1] but he later suspended his campaign because of uncertainties over the Texas redistricting fight.[2]


NATO: Operation Deny Flight[]

The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and December 1995. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), after popular pressure, had decided to intervene in the Bosnian War after allegations of war crimes against civilians were made by various media organizations. NATO military involvement primarily involved enforcement of a "No Fly Zone" code named Operation Deny Flight to discourage military aircraft of the Bosnian-Serb Armed Forces from attacking Bosnian civilians and Bosniak and Croat forces.[3] As part of that operation, two F-16s from the 555th Fighter Squadron based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, were patrolling the skies above Bosnia on June 2, 1995.[4]


On the ground, a Bosnian Serb Army 2K12 Kub surface-to-air missile near Mrkonjić Grad was readying its missiles for NATO aircraft. The Serbs had moved the mobile tracked missile battery and laid a trap. They switched on their missile radars sparingly, giving the F-16 pilots little warning. Waiting until it was directly overhead, where the aircraft's warning and countermeasures would be at its weakest, they fired two missiles skyward. In the cockpit, O'Grady's instruments alerted him that a missile was coming but, because he was flying in clouds, he could not see it. The first missile exploded between the two aircraft. The second struck the F-16 piloted by O'Grady.[5] His wingman, Captain Bob Wright, saw O'Grady's plane burst into flames, breaking it in two. He did not see a parachute, but O'Grady survived as he ejected from the aircraft.[4]

O'Grady landed amidst a Bosnian-Serb population that was assumed to be unfriendly and, within a minute, he secured a 29-pound survival bag under his seat, ran, and hid. Rubbing dirt on his face, he hid face-down as Bosnian-Serb forces came upon his parachute and ejection seat, at one point hitting the ground with their rifles in an effort to flush him out only feet from where he was hidden.[5]

F-16C of the 555th Fighter Squadron based at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

During the next six days, he put to use the lessons learned during a 17 day Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training he had undertaken near his hometown of Spokane, WA. He ate leaves, grass, and bugs, and stored the little rainwater he could collect with a sponge in plastic bags.[6]

O'Grady waited to radio for help, as the U.S. Air Force had taught him that downed pilots are often captured after calling for help too soon, giving away their position. (It also allowed him time to figure out how to operate the radio, since not paying attention during pilot training sessions he was unfamiliar with it.) On his fourth full day on the ground, he signaled his location using the small reserve of his radio's battery power each time he went on the air. NATO military planes conducting sorties in the Balkans had been picking up beeper snippets that they thought could be coming from O'Grady. Unfortunately, this extremely sensitive piece of information was inadvertently revealed by General Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force Chief of Staff, when the General told reporters at a promotion ceremony one Monday that monitors had detected "intermittent" transmissions.[7] A NATO official was quoted as saying "I was dumbfounded he said that... I mean, why not just announce to the bad guys, 'We think he's alive and kicking, and we hope we find him before you do'?"[4]


Just after midnight on June 8,[8] he spoke into the radio. An F-16 pilot from the 555th responded, and after confirming his identity, the rescue was set in motion. At 4:40, Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of NATO Southern Forces, called US Marine Colonel Martin Berndt aboard the USS Kearsarge with orders to "execute."[5]

Two CH-53 Sea Stallions with 51 Marines from the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines within the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, lifted off the USS Kearsarge to rescue the pilot. The two helicopters were accompanied by two Marine AH-1W SuperCobra helicopter gunships and a pair of Marine AV-8B Harrier jump jets. These six aircraft had support from identical sets of replacement helicopters and jump jets as well as two Navy EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes, two Marine F/A-18D Hornets, a pair of anti-tank Air Force A-10 Warthogs and a NATO AWACS radar plane.[4]

At 6:35 a.m., the helicopters approached the area where O'Grady's signal beacon had been traced. The pilots saw bright yellow smoke coming from trees near a rocky pasture where O'Grady had set off a flare. The first Stallion, commanded by Major William Tarbutton, touched down and 20 Marines jumped off the aircraft and set up a defensive perimeter.[5] As the second Sea Stallion landed, a figure with a pistol who turned out to be the missing pilot appeared running towards the Marines and immediately went to the Sea Stallion.[9] As the side door opened, he was pulled in before the second 20 Marines poised to leave by the rear ramp could even move. They were called back to their seats, and those who had formed the defensive perimeter reboarded the other helicopter. After a quick head count, the Stallions took off. They had been on the ground no more than seven minutes.[4]


The Marines and their passenger were still flying low over Serb-held Bosnia as the threat was not yet over. American aircraft detected a Serb missile radar along the Croatian coast, scanning for targets. An American plane recommended destroying the Serb radar, code-named Giraffe. The request was denied, partly out of concern that a strike could spark wider conflict.[8]

Minutes later, the Marines reported they were under fire. Two shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles had been launched at them but missed, as the helicopter pilots—flying 150 feet off the ground at 175 mph—jinked to evade them. Serb small arms pocked both helicopters; the Marines aboard heard the bullets hit inside the fuselage.[4][8] One door gunner returned fire. One round hit some communication gear in the chopper and the bullet ended up against Master Sergeant Angel Castro Jr.'s armor without injuring anyone. At 7:15 AM local time, 30 minutes after picking up O'Grady, the rescuers reported "feet wet," meaning they were over water.[4][8] O'Grady was back aboard the Kearsarge at 7:30.[7] All of the aircraft landed without further incident.


On August 11, 1995,[10] a USAF RQ-1 Predator UAV was shot down by Serb forces in the same area.[11] The Serbs recovered the wreckage and handed it over to Russia for technical evaluation.[10] On 30 August, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force, a massive airstrike campaign which eventually lifted the siege of Sarajevo and led to the end of the war in Bosnia.[12]

Personal life[]

O'Grady was born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, a son of William P. O'Grady and Mary Lou Scardapane (née Giustra, remarried), and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. He is a former cadet in the Civil Air Patrol and a 1989 Air Force ROTC graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's campus in Prescott, Arizona. Three years after his rescue, O'Grady transferred from active duty in the regular U.S. Air Force to the Air Force Reserve, where he continued to fly the F-16. In May 2007, he completed a master's degree in biblical studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He resides in Frisco in Collin County, Texas.[13]

O'Grady is an active Republican, having spoken at the 1996 Republican convention in support of Bob Dole.[14] In 2004, O'Grady, supporting George W. Bush for re-election, accused Bush's opponent John Kerry of "treason" for actions taken during the Vietnam War.[15] More recently O'Grady endorsed Brian Birdwell in his successful 2010 bid for the Texas State Senate;[16] Birdwell is a recovered burn victim of the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon. On September 19, 2011, O'Grady announced his own candidacy for the Texas statehouse, seeking the 2012 Republican nomination in Senate District 8 following the retirement of Sen. Florence Shapiro.[1] But O'Grady dropped out of the race in early 2012, claiming Shapiro had reneged on a promise to support him in the primary.[17] O'Grady also cited the uncertainties over the Texas redistricting fight as a reason to suspend his campaign.

In popular culture[]

The shootdown incident was depicted and described on the documentary television program Situation Critical in episode No. 5, "Downed Pilot." This has been shown on the National Geographic Channel.[18] It was also covered in "Escape! – Escape From Bosnia: The Scott O'Grady Story" on the History Channel. BBC also made a documentary, titled "Missing in Action," that was later purchased by 20th Century Fox and Discovery Communications.

The 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines starring Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson, is loosely based on this event.[19] Although O'Grady had given it a positive rating on the film review television show Hot Or Not, O'Grady took offense at the portrayal of 'his' character in Behind Enemy Lines "as a pilot who disobeys orders and swears."[20] O'Grady sued 20th Century Fox in 2002 for making the film without his permission. He also took action over the documentary, Behind Enemy Lines: The Scott O'Grady Story, which was a reedited version of a BBC documentary which Discovery Communications, parent company of the Discovery Channel, had purchased and edited. The documentary was broadcast several times on the Discovery Channel, and O'Grady accused Fox of using it to promote the film. Both suits were settled in 2004. Fox made a confidential settlement with O'Grady,[21] while a Texas court ruled against O'Grady and in favor of Discovery Communications. The judge's ruling stating, in effect, that the events in a person's life are not the same thing as that person's likeness or image.[22]

O'Grady co-wrote two books, collaborating on one, with Michael French, that detailed his experiences of being shot down over Bosnia and his eventual rescue, Basher Five-Two: The True Story of F-16 Fighter Pilot Captain Scott O'Grady.[23] He later wrote a book concerning the spiritual effects from his experience in Return with Honor with Jeff Coplon.[24] Another book has also been written; this one, "Good To Go:" The Rescue of Capt. Scott O'Grady, USAF, from Bosnia, was written by Mary Pat Kelly.[25]


  • O'Grady, Captain Scott (with Jeff Coplon). Return With Honor. New York: Doubleday, 1995. (ISBN 0-385-48330-9)
  • O'Grady, Scott (with Michael French). Basher Five-Two: The True Story of F-16 Fighter Pilot Captain Scott O'Grady. New York: Doubleday, 1997. (ISBN 0-385-32300-X)
  • Kelly, Mary Pat. "Good To Go:" The Rescue of Capt. Scott O'Grady, USAF, from Bosnia. Naval Institute Press, 1996. (ISBN 1-55750-459-8)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Shapiro not seeking reelection; O’Grady announces". Austin American Statesman Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  2. O'Grady suspends bid for Collin County seat in Texas Senate. Trail Blazers Blog for the Dallas Morning News. January 30, 2012.
  3. "Operation Deny Flight". AFSOUTH. 18 July 2003. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 "Rescuing Scott O'Grady: All For One". Time Magazine. 19 June 1995. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Bruce B. Auster (19 June 1995). "One Amazing Kid - Capt. Scott O' Grady escapes from Bosnia-Herzegovina". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  6. Basher Five-Two: The True Story of F-16 Fighter Pilot Captain Scott O'Grady By Scott O'Grady, Michael French
  7. 7.0 7.1 "DoD News Briefing: Admiral William Owens, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff". U.S. Department of Defense. 8 June 1995. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Evan Thomas (19 June 1995). "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  9. Francis X. Clines (9 June 1995). "Conflict in the Balkans: The Rescue; Downed U.S. Pilot Rescued in Bosnia in Daring Raid". New York Times. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 RQ-1 Predator/MQ-9 Reaper June 2010, p. 16
  11. Major Robert C. Nolan II: The Pilotless Air Force?. The Research DepartmentAir Command and Staff College, March 1997, page 6
  12. Holbrooke, Richard (1999). To End a War. New York: Modern Library. p. 102. ISBN 0-375-75360-5.
  13. "Former fighter pilot Scott O’Grady running for new Rockwall Co. House seat". Retrieved August 10, 201. 
  14. Convention Notes (Monday night). CNN. August 12, 1996.
  15. O'Grady: Kerry's actions after Vietnam constituted treason. Associated Press (via Minnesota Public Radio). August 13, 2004.
  16. "Endorsements of Brian Birdwell". Retrieved September 11, 2010. [dead link]
  17. In Senate race, Scott O'Grady details split with Florence Shapiro. Trail Blazers Blog for the Dallas Morning News. February 2, 2012.
  18. Duration: 45 min. "Watch National Geographic Documentaries Season 3 Episode 2 Situation Critical: Downed Pilot". Retrieved May 7, 2012. 
  20. "Pilot sues over Bosnian escape film". BBC News. August 20, 2002. Retrieved June 8, 2011. 
  21. Sarah Hall (January 21, 2004). ""Behind Enemy Lines" Suit Settled". Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. 
  23. Basher Five-Two: The True Story of F-16 Fighter Pilot Captain Scott O'Grady Publisher: Yearling; Reprint edition (July 6, 1998)Language: English ISBN 978-0-440-41313-4 ASIN: 0440413133
  24. Return with Honor Publisher: HarperTorch (August 23, 1996) Language: English ISBN 978-0-06-101147-4
  25. "Good To Go:" The Rescue of Capt. Scott O'Grady, USAF, from Bosnia, by Mary Pat Kelly (Hardcover – Apr 1996) – Illustrated Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; 1st Printing edition (November 13, 2001) Language: English ISBN 978-0-385-72999-4

External links[]

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