Shot down in the Kuwaiti desert, Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Fox tried to elude Iraqi troops by jogging back to Saudi Arabia in spite of an injured knee. Overhead, fellow pilots desperately searched for him while the enemy closed in.
"Mayday, mayday! I'm on the ground!" Fox squawked on his radio. "I've ejected! Now heading south!""There's a guy coming at me with a gun," he said in a tape recording reported in The Providence (R.I.) Journal-Bulletin.
"I'm not holding out any hope here," he said later when it was clear rescuers would not reach him before Iraqi troops.
The tape was made from cockpit recorders in the planes searching for him and was played for a Journal-Bulletin reporter in Saudi Arabia last week. It chilled family members still rejoicing Fox's freedom.
"It kind of gives you goose bumps," his sister, Nancy Howard, said Thursday. "You can just picture it. You're running in the desert
and somebody's coming after you."
Fox, 40, a native of Swansea, Mass., was captured Feb. 19 when his A-10 Warthog tank-killer jet was shot down. He was among the prisoners of war released after allied troops forced Iraq from Kuwait, and arrived last weekend at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where he is being treated for his knee injury.
In an interview published in Friday's Boston Globe, Fox described how a soldier harassed and interrogated him.
"He cocked the gun, put it as close to my ear as he could and fired," Fox said. "You've already made it through five or six days and now this guy says he's going to kill you. You're caught between thinking he's kidding and thinking maybe he's not."
"Thoughts of my family went through my mind, but the thing I did the most is just say, `Hail Mary.' "
Fox said he was beaten, repeatedly questioned and moved from one prison to another in Iraq. He said he received his "first and most vicious beating" on the third day of his 15-day captivity.
"They blindfolded me and, with handcuffs on, several guys walked around me. And, out of the clear blue sky, with an open or closed fist, one hit me on the right side of my head, puncturing my right eardrum. Another simultaneously beat on my right knee with what appeared to be a solid rubber policeman's baton.
"They did that four or five times and it was pretty painful," Fox said. "Up to this point I'd had a false sense of security."
At a news conference Thursday at Andrews with other former POWs, Fox described his attempt to flee to safety.
"I headed in a southerly direction as rapidly as I could go," he said. "It turned out it wasn't fast enough."
Despite his injury, Fox, a marathon runner, tried to jog to the Saudi Arabian border about 10 miles away after he ejected from his plane.
"They're coming for me, dudes," Fox said in the recording.
"I'm heading south."
The pilot of a rescue plane asked Fox if he knew his coordinates, and Fox responded: "No, I sure don't, man. I sure don't."
"Here come some guys to pick me up," Fox said.
"Nail 5-3 (Fox's code name). Talk to us."
"They're coming for me, dudes."
"I'm coming your way," the rescuer said. "I'm across the hardball from you."
"There's a guy coming at me with a gun. I only see one. I don't see anyone else."
"Copy that. I'm coming your way. If you see an A-10 overhead, look for me."
"He's yelling. Telling me to get my hands up."
Moments later, Fox said: "You got my crash site yet?"
"I don't see it. I'm coming to you. Do you see an A-10 overhead?"
"No I do not. This guy's less than 100 yards away."
"OK. I'm trying to get through to you. I don't know where you are exactly."
"OK. I'm not holding out any hope here."
"Nail 5-5's got a tally on your smoke site. Say (your location) from there."
"I'm a hundred meters to the south."
"Copy that. I'm inbound."
As the rescue plane tried to home in on Fox's location, he said: "Too late guys. He's here."