Chair Force Engineer

Friday, April 14, 2006

Karma 52

In the minds of some, the Global War on Terrorism began on April 14, 1986, when the United States launched Operation El Dorado Canyon. After Libya had been linked to a series of terrorist bombings, President Ronald Reagan ordered a series of airstrikes against terrorist targets in Libya.

The main thrust of the attack came from F-111F medium bombers based in Lakenheath, England. Because the US was denied overflight rights by our "ally" France, the aircraft flew westward around the Iberian peninsula on their way to Libya, adding 1300 miles to the mission.

While the strikes were generally viewed as a military success, one of the crews didn't make it home. Captain Fernando Ribas-Dominicci and Captain Paul Lorence, callsign "Karma 52," were shot down over the Gulf of Sidra inbound to their targets. The two airmen were missing and presumed dead.

In January 1989, almost three years after El Dorado Canyon, Pope John Paul II successfully persuaded Libya to return the remains of Capt. Ribas-Dominicci to the US. His body washed ashore about a month after the shootdown. An autopsy revealed that he had drowned, suffering only a broken foot. The Libyans had held onto the remains for nearly three years. This brought up the disturbing question: were the Libyans still holding Paul Lorence's remains?

Based on the autopsy results, the most likely scenario is that the two aviatiors escaped their crippled airplane in the F-111F's escape capsule. A failure of the flotation bags caused the capsule to sink in the Gulf of Sidra. The aviators either drowned in place or drowned while trying to swim free of the capsule.

The last few years have brought about a thawing of the chilly relations between the US and Libya. In early 2004, hope was raised that a US team could travel to Libya and investigate the rumors that Capt. Lorence's remains were still in Libyan custody. The team came back from their mission empty-handed.

On this 20th year since he was killed in the line of duty, America still waits to welcome Capt. Lorence home. If the Libyans still possess his remains or any of his personal items, they should be returned immediately, if only to give his family closure.