The remains of a US Navy pilot who went missing during a bombing run in the first Gulf War in 1991 have been found in Iraq, the Pentagon confirmed on Sunday.
The fate of Michael Speicher has been a mystery for 18 years. He had been the subject of multiple Pentagon investigations as the uncertainty over his status caused it to be changed from missing in action to captured.
The Pentagon said the military received a tip in early July from an Iraqi citizen about the possible location of Speicher's remains. US Marines in al-Anbar province then went to a spot in the desert believed to the crash site of Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet.
The remains were excavated during the past week and flown to the US. An analysis of dental records showed the remains were Speicher, although DNA tests were ongoing, the Pentagon said.
"Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be," Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said in a statement.
"We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain Speicher and his family for the sacrifice they have made for our nation and the example of strength they have set for all of us."
Speicher's F/A-18 went down on January 17, 1991. He was the first casualty of Operation Desert Storm to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. He was 33 at the time.
The Pentagon concluded in 2001 after a review that he was missing in action, and after additional inquiries the Pentagon said concluded that remained the case, even though the intelligence community said he was dead.
It has been disputed whether he was struck by a surface-to air-missile or a missile fired from an Iraqi warplane.
In 2002, as then-president George W Bush was building the case for invading Iraq, the Pentagon switched the pilot's status again, declaring, based on alleged sightings, he was captured and in the custody of Saddam's regime.
There was hope that the March 2003 US-led invasion would shed light on the case, but an on-the-ground investigation provided little information.
The captain's initials were found on a jail cell in the Iraqi city of Hakmiyah in April 2003, but they were later determined to be meaningless. The Pentagon declared the sighting was "discredited", and switched his status back to missing-in-action.
In July, the Marines went to the crash site acting on information provided by an Iraqi citizen. The Iraqi stated he knew of two other Iraqis who recalled an American jet impacting the desert and the remains of the pilot being buried in the desert by Bedouin.