The morning package had turned around at the border for two main reasons: no Wild Weasels, and poor weather. The target had been the Al Taji Rocket Production Facility located in the north of Baghdad. The package did, however, drop their bombs on the alternate target of Salman North airfield, located in central Iraq.
Meanwhile, the afternoon group had shown up for mission planning and discovered that their target had been changed from the nuclear research facility located south of Baghdad to three targets located in the heart of the city itself: the Air Force Headquarters, the Republican Guard Headquarters, and the oil refinery. The 614th TFS would fly the first daylight F-16 raid on downtown Baghdad.
As the 16-ship F-16 package arrived at the air refueling track, it was discovered that there were not enough tankers for the entire group. Consequently, the last four-ship, call-sign Stroke 1-4, was engaged in a radio conversation with any Forward Air Controller (FAC) they could raise on the radio in order to be used as opportunity air strikers in Kuwait. As the four-ship was about to deport on an alternative mission, a pop-up tanker arrived which allowed everyone to proceed as planned.
As the package proceeded to the Iraqi border the weather become steadily worse until everyone was in the weather, unable to climb out into the clear. As planes got out of position, the package finally broke out into the clear just past the Iraqi border. At this time, a large calibre AAA gun began firing on the aircraft. The AAA consisted of extremely large airbursts that looked like big black rain clouds. The AAA, coupled with the confusion of sorting out the package formation, resulted in 25% of the package being sent home at that time. Meanwhile the package, now a 12-ship, pressed on to Baghdad.
As the flight approached the Baghdad IP, AAA began firing at tremendous rates. Most of the AAA was at 10-12,000ft (3,658m), but there were some very heavy, large calibre explosions up to 27,000ft (8,230m). Low altitude AAA became so thick it appeared to be an undercast. At this time, the 388th TFW F-16’s were hitting the Nuclear Research Centre outside of the city, and the Weasels had fired off all their HARMs in support of initial parts of the strike and warnings to the 614th F-16’s going further into downtown went unheard. The F-15’s also provided air cover and departed with the first part of the strike group. Again, a warning that went unheard. Without knowing it 614th TFS F-16’s were all pretty much alone in downtown Baghdad with no air cover and no electronic support assets.
A low overcast deck covered the northern portion of the city which extended south to the point where the AF Headquarters and the Republican Guard Headquarters were mostly obscured, and the package commander, Maj. John Nips Nichols, called a weather abort for those two targets. The southern portion of the city was clear, and the oil refinery was clearly visible to Crud and Stroke flights. As they approached the action point to roll in on the refinery, an SA-2 launch warning was received. The fighters turned to honour the threat missile launch warning, and some SAMs were seen in the air, but they were not an immediate threat. The remaining F-16’s each pinpoint bombed separate refectory towers on the site, and set the refinery ablaze. The destruction was so complete that the flames from the refinery were seen on Cable News Network (CNN) film for the next two weeks.
As the initial SA-2 launch warning faded however, Maj. ET Tullia, Stroke 3, received additional SA-2 and SA-3 acquisition warnings that went unheeded as he rolled in on the towers. The high angle diving delivery, combined with the on-board ECM pod delayed a full SAM missile system acquisition until he pulled off the target and turned south. As the missiles closed, ET's tape reveals the screams of the radar warning receiver into his headset of a missile launch. The missiles overshot and harmlessly detonated above his aircraft, and he turned back to the egress heading.
Multiple SAMs were launched at the package, some ballistic and unguided and some tracking with a full system lock-on. In spite of this, some members of the package refused to jettison their bombs until clear of the city to avoid possible damage to civilian non-combatants. One of the missiles guided toward Clap 4, piloted by Capt. Mike Cujo Roberts. A missile break warning sounded over the radio and Cujo saw the missile as it guided towards him. It passes behind his aircraft and detonates, and Cujo believes he is safe until his aircraft begins to pitch over and he loses control. As the jet approaches negative 1'g', Cujo ejected over downtown Baghdad. No one observed an ejection, nor saw a 'chute.
Meanwhile, ET became separated from the rest of the package because of his missile defensive break turns. As he defeats the missiles coming off the target, additional missiles are fired, this time, from either side of the rear quadrants of his aircraft. Training for SAM launches up to this point had been more or less book learning, recommending a pull to an orthogonal flight path 4 seconds prior to missile impact to overshoot the missile and create sufficient miss distance to negate the effects of the detonating warhead. Well, it works. The hard part though, is to see the missile early enough to make all the mental calculations.
The energy required to execute these missile break turns forced Maj. Tullia's jet to descend to 10,000ft (3,050ml, which put him in the heart of the AAA envelope. The only answer in this case was to select afterburner in order to increase airspeed and climb. However, being extremely low on fuel, and 700 nautical miles from home, afterburner must be used very judiciously. Before sufficient airspeed is increased, however, ET is faced with another multiple missile launch. In this case two separate SA-6 missile sites launch at his jet while he is climbing out of the AAA envelope. By continuing to unload his aircraft, ET watches the missiles as they close on his aircraft. The unloading and accelerating causes his aircraft to change its flight path, and a change in the missile flight path can be observed as well. As the timed break turns are accomplished, one missile flies so close that ET can hear the roar of the rocket as it passes where, just a fraction of a second earlier, the right wing was. Two missiles are launched towards him from the front of his aircraft and can be easily seen on his HUD film. Finally, as he reaches the outskirts of the city an optically guided missile of unknown type is fired. There is no radar warning of the launch, but the track of the missile can easily be observed to be guiding towards his aircraft. A defensive turn overshoots the missile, and Maj. Tullia proceeds on his way, now searching for the rest of his Flight.
Unknown to Maj Tullia, Tico was hit by an SA·3. He had an uncorrelated missile launch on his radar warning receiver (RWR), and as he turned, he visually acquired the missile guiding on his aircraft from below. He timed his missile break turn, the missile overshot his aircraft and detonated behind him. Unfortunately, the miss distance was not sufficient to guarantee the safety of his aircraft, and Tico observed large, peeled-back holes on the surface of the jet with fuel, oil, and hydraulic fluid forming a smoke trail behind him.
While Tico was egressing, all the warning lights in his cockpit had illuminated, and he had no indication of airspeed, heading, or altitude. Fortunately, Capt. Bruce Crutch Cox was nearby, and the two of them formed a Flight as they headed south. As the two were egressing, Crutch received some very unusual radar warning indications. About that time the AWACS called bandits airborne and heading south out of Baghdad. The bandits in this case were MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters. Crutch pitched back to look at the source of the threat warning with his radar and saw that he was flying line abreast with one of the MiGs. As he turned into the MiG and locked onto it with his radar, it turned and ran. Since Crutch didn't have the fuel to chase him, he turned his attention back to helping Tico.
Shortly after, Tico's jet quit flying. He was forced to eject over 150 miles (240km) into Iraq. As he ejected and was descending in his parachute, he extracted his emergency radio and talked to the Flight. A large number of enemy personnel on the ground were observing his descent and they were trying to shoot at him as he was descending. He asked for assistance, but the fuel situation prohibited anyone from orbiting. Once on the ground there was no chance of evading. Tico was captured by nomadic, Bedouin tribesmen of Iraq.
After talking to Tico on the radio, the Flight passed the information on his location to the orbiting AWACS in order to begin a Search-and-Rescue (SAR). The rest of the flight home was a quiet one as everyone thought of two friends left back in Iraq.
It was a long night. It was most people's first introduction to losing friends in combat. As the night wore on, the word finally arrived, there was no contact with Tico. The largest SAR effort to date had been under way. C-130’s and F-15E Strike Eagles orbited, circling over Tico's last known position, trying to raise him on the radio. Little did anyone know that Tico was sitting in the Bedouin chief's tent listening to the C-130 fly overhead, trying to devise a way to talk on the radio. No one would hear from Tico or Cujo again until they were seen on CNN three days later.
The next day, the weather continued to be poor in Iraq. Both the morning and afternoon missions were cancelled for weather.