Was a U.S. C-130 mistakenly shot down in Chad in 1988?

Nov 05 2012 - 13 Comments

Based on the majority of the reports on the subject currently available, only one aircraft was shot down in the close encounters between the French and the Libyan Air Force since the beginning of Opération Épervier (the ongoing military presence of France in Chad to contain a Libyan invasion): a Libyan Tu-22.

However, the “Blinder” destroyed over N’Djamena on Sept. 7, 1987, the only confirmed shot down, might not have been the only one to be downed in Chad by France in the mid ’80s. Along with another Libyan plane, a U.S. C-130 could have fallen as a consequence of French anti-aircraft fire, according to a French reader of The Aviationist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“There were at least  three aircraft shot down [in Chad], two Tu-22s and one C-130,” he explained in an email.

On Feb. 17, 1986, after the Ouadi-Doum air raid (the first French strike in Chad against the airbase used by the Libyan planes to attack the Chadian capital town), a Libyan Arab Republic Air Force Tu-22 attempted to bomb N’Djamena. “Official reports said the Blinder was too high to be hit by Crotale or twin-tube and crashed on the return leg because of a technical fault. But according to some sources the bomber was flying at very low level and it was hit by ground air defense battery fire defending N’Djamena airport, and crashed in northern Chad,” he says.

In fact, some reports of that period already mentioned the possibility that the aircraft did not crash because of failure but as a consequence of French fire.

Then, as already said, “on Sept. 7, 1987, a flight of two Mirage F1C on combat air patrol, attempted to intercept a LARAF Tu-22. The leading plane fired a Matra Super 530 missile at the Blinder but  missed it. Then, one French Army Air Defense MIM-23 Hawk missile shot it down.”

While the downing of an additional Tu-22 is nothing new, what is really new (at least to me) is the alleged “blue on blue” episode that brought down a U.S. C-130.

“From Jul. 7 to 9, 1988, there was a meeting between Chadians and Libyans in Libreville, Gabon. The tension was high in Chad (French feared an attack by the Libyan forces). On the evening of July 7, a plane was spotted in the direction of Faya Largeau [airport used by the French Air Force planes in northern Chad]. Identification procedure was launched. The aircraft got closer, alarm given, everyone suited up NBC clothes. Then, three Stinger missiles were fired. One hit his target, that turned to be a U.S. C-130. The body of an American pilot was extracted and then repatriated to the U.S. embassy…this event is still classified.”

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

I’ve tried to look for more information about this friendly fire mishap, but haven’t found anything on the net. Whilst I can believe U.S. planes operated in the region in that period, what’s weird is that, according to the reader, the American Hercules was shot down by Stingers missiles fired by a French army unit, even if France is not among the FIM-92 operators. Furthermore, there’s no trace of any mishap around Faya Largeau in that period that could back the theory of a U.S. (special ops?) plane brought down by mistake.

Asked to provide more details, the reader replied that the story comes from personal accounts. Hence it’s impossible to fact check it and it may just be another conspiracy theory. However, I can’t but notice that this reader is a reliable source.

Has anyone ever heard this story?

“Contrary to what has been told, there were also skirmishes between French Mirage F1 and Libyan planes. On Jun. 7, 1987, a Mirage F1 achieved a warning shot against an IL-76 that approached too near Faya Largeau during the commemoration of liberation of the city,” the French source explains.

“According to personal knowledgeable sources, there was also a shot from Mirage F1 on Su-20/22 during this period, but not kills […] Many of these reports are still classified.”

Image credit: French MoD