Editor’s note: This column is the eighth segment of a new 11-part exclusive WorldNetDaily series excerpted from Jack Cashill’s shocking new book, “Ron Brown’s Body.” “At the end of day,” says Cashill who began the project a skeptic, “it is not irresponsible to talk about murder.” Today, Cashill notes that he dedicates his book to the six Air Force crew members “who died in honorable service to their country through no fault of their own.”
At 2:10 p.m. Croatia time, on April 3, 1996, Capt. Amir Sehic landed a twin-engine corporate jet at Cilipi Airport, about 10 nautical miles south of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast.
Sehic’s jet carried the Croatian prime minister and American Ambassador Peter Galbraith. It was followed immediately by a Swiss Air charter carrying executives from the Enron corporation. The impressively clairvoyant Enron execs had chosen to take their own plane.
About 15 minutes earlier, Ron Brown’s CT-43A, the military version of a Boeing 737, had left Tuzla in Bosnia, 130 miles to the northeast. Capt. Sehic watched as the rain ceased and the sky brightened. At 2:48 p.m., he called the incoming plane from his cockpit and told the pilots that the weather was, in his words, “on the minima,” meaning above the minimum standards needed to land.
Because of the cloud cover, U.S. Air Force Capts. Ashley Davis and Tim Shafer were flying an instrument approach into Cilipi. The only ground instrument the pilots could follow was an NDB – a non-directional radio beacon – on Kolocep Island. This was not of great concern to Davis. An evaluator pilot, he had recently tested “proficient” on this kind of approach. At 2:54 p.m., the plane passed over the radio beacon, seemingly on course and cleared for a landing.
The pilots descended through the clouds – at an appropriate approach speed – to an altitude of 2,200 feet, smoothly and consistently, guiding themselves by the one beacon behind them. Only in the final seconds of their young lives did Davis and Shafer realize they were off course. Just three minutes after last contact with the control tower, St. John’s Peak rose up right in front of them, nearly two miles inland from the runway.
At 2:57 p.m., the craft sideswiped the jagged hillside, clipping its right wing and engine and cracking off the tail before any of the passengers even had a chance to pray for deliverance. The fuselage then skidded violently across the rocky slope, breaking up as it slid, disgorging its passengers randomly, and finally crunching to a fiery halt with the crew, likely dead or unconscious, trapped inside.
For several confusing and controversial hours, NATO helicopters searched the Adriatic in vain. At 6:45 p.m., a local villager called the police to tell them that earlier in the afternoon he had heard a plane fly low overhead, followed by a loud “grating sound” and then an explosion.
At that moment, a local police chief was driving toward the hills for the simple reason that this “was the area that wasn’t searched so far.” When the message was relayed to him, he headed toward St. John’s Peak. At 7:20 p.m., he called in the first official visual confirmation of the wreckage.
It was not until 8:30 p.m. that Croatian police spotted two women lying under debris in the tail of the plane. They had presumed them both dead until, at 9:30 p.m., they heard one of them, Tech. Sgt. Shelly Kelly, make an “ah” sound. She was bleeding from her mouth and nose and from her leg.
At 10:36 p.m., a U.S. MH-53 helicopter took off from Cilipi in an attempt to airlift the survivor out, but was repeatedly beaten back by the now stormy weather. At 11:15 p.m., Croatian police put Kelly on a stretcher and carried her down the hill. At the bottom, they transferred her to a waiting ambulance. A Croatian physician pronounced her dead on the way to the hospital.
Rumors would spread that Kelly was seen climbing onto a rescue helicopter under her own power, only to succumb later to a slashed femoral artery. The New York Times may have fed the rumors by claiming the police found her alive two hours earlier than they actually had, and that “she tried to stand up, and lost consciousness.” But the Times was wrong, and rumors of her murder were just that. An entirely credible autopsy – something Brown was denied – would confirm she died of an “ill-defined cervical fracture,” a broken neck.
The first American rescuers would not reach the peak until 2:30 a.m. Within hours, on orders from Washington, they authorized an “accident investigation.” This was the first time ever on friendly soil that the U.S. Air Force skipped the “mishap” stage of an investigation and presumed an accident.
On that same day, without any hard information, the political people hastened to dispel any notion of terrorism or sabotage. “The weather yesterday, as the plane flew in, was terrible,” said Peter Galbraith. He then shifted from overstatement to outright dissembling. “In fact, people in Dubrovnik say that this is the worst storm in a decade.” His remark was picked up widely by the media and, without any substantiation, transformed into fact.
Defense Secretary William Perry had flown on the same plane only days earlier. So had Hillary and Chelsea a week or so before that. Coincidentally, they had flown into Tuzla as well. In an oddly indiscreet moment, Perry told reporters on his way back to Washington from Egypt: “It was a classic sort of an accident that good instrumentation should be able to prevent.” He was in no position to know that or say it.
As to the president, he made the serendipitous connection between this sad day – April 4, a day after the crash – and a comparably sad one 28 years earlier when Martin Luther King was slain in Memphis. Like King, claimed the president, Brown died “answering a very important challenge of his time.
Clinton did not elaborate that this “important challenge” was brokering a sweetheart deal between a fascist dictator and the Enron Corporation.
Monday: Part 9 – The “bullet hole” that should have shook Washington