Capt. Richard Phillips (right) with USS Bainbridge Cmdr. Frank Castellano after Phillips' rescue. Courtesy: U.S. Navy
Capt. Richard Phillips (right) with USS Bainbridge Lt. Cmdr. David Fowler after Phillips' rescue. Courtesy: U.S. Navy
Capt. Richard Phillips following his rescue. Courtesy: U.S. Navy
Mombasa, Kenya - April 12, 2009
Capt. Richard Phillips of Underhill has been rescued from the Somali pirates who were holding him captive. Officials say Phillips is unharmed.
A U.S. military official says Capt. Phillips was in "imminent danger" of being killed by his captors before U.S. Special Operations forces fatally shot them. Navy SEALs and other officers opened fire on three pirates when a Navy commander made a split-second decision that Phillips' life was in danger. The pirates had threatened to kill the captain throughout the ordeal. They were armed with AK-47s and pistols. The swift firefight killed three of the pirates. A fourth pirate surrendered and is in custody. The Justice Dept. is considering criminal charges against the Somali.
After the firefight, Capt. Phillips was safely transported to a nearby Navy warship. Navy officials say Phillips is resting comfortably after receiving a medical exam. He was first taken to the USS Bainbridge and then flown to the USS Boxer for the medical exam. Navy officials say Phillips is in good health and suffered no apparent injuries during his ordeal.
Phillips was the top commander on the Maersk Alabama. The ship was headed to Kenya with relief supplies Wednesday when it was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Capt. Phillips gave himself up to the pirates as a hostage to protect his crew. The pirates held him on a lifeboat. Phillips attempted a daring escape-- jumping overboard and trying to swim back to his ship, but he was recaptured.
Administration officials say President Obama approved the military operation that rescued Phillips from the pirates. The officials say Obama ordered the Defense Department to use military resources to rescue the captain. Saturday, the president praised Phillips for his bravery, courage and selfless concern for his crew and called him "a model for all Americans." Mr. Obama says he's pleased the captain has been rescued and that Phillips' safety was his main concern. The president says he is proud of the U.S. military and other agencies that worked to free Phillips.
Upon hearing the news of Phillips' safe rescue, jubilant crew members of the Maersk Alabama celebrated on board their ship in a Kenyan port. They placed an American flag over the rail at the top of the ship and fired off flares. Crew members have described Phillips as a "hero" for offering himself as a hostage in exchange for the safety of his crew.
Maersk President and CEO John Reinhart said in a press release that he called Phillips' wife Andrea in Underhill to tell her the good news. A Maersk spokeswoman read a statement to reporters on the family's behalf saying that the nation's prayers and good wishes paid off.
In a news conference, Reinhart said Capt. Phillips is deferring credit for the rescue to the U.S. Navy and other government agencies. Reinhart called Phillips' rescue a great moment for the nation. Reinhart said he talked to Phillips on the phone. He read a quote from Phillips in which the captain said: "John, I'm just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the SEALs, those who have brought me home."
Meanwhile, Captain Phillips' home town of Underhill is rejoicing.
Most of the Underhill residents who attended Easter services at St. Thomas Church know Richard Phillips and his family. When word came that the ship captain had been freed, it was time to rejoice.
"I think the whole community's been praying, but we were praying this morning that he would be released. And what a wonderful Easter gift. We're very thrilled," said Melissa Myers-Gilbert of Jericho.
Maersk spokeswoman Alison McColl told a gaggle of reporters outside the Phillips home that the family was not prepared to speak publicly, but considered this a happy Easter, indeed.
"Andrea and Richard have spoken; I think you can all imagine their joy, and what a happy moment that was for them. They're all just so happy and relieved," McColl said.
After five days of the hostage crisis, the national media coverage was non-stop and yellow ribbons had appeared everywhere, along with other signs that all of Vermont was pulling for Phillips' safe return. And now the ordeal was over.
"I heard about it from a lift attendant as I was boarding a chair lift at Smuggler's," said Marcy Milton of Burlington. "I thought it was really, really good news."
"It was probably a long and difficult trip, but he kept his wits about him. And now he's free. It's great news," said Kevin Spensely of Jericho.
The Somali criminals still hold hostages of other nationalities from other piracies. But right here, right now, it's a happy ending.
Gov. Jim Douglas, R-Vermont, issued the following statement: "On behalf of all Vermonters who hoped and prayed for Captain Richard Phillips' release, Dorothy and I are greatly relieved and overjoyed to learn that Richard has been rescued. His strength and courage in the face of extreme adversity are an inspiration to all Vermonters. Captain Phillips is a hero to us all. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Andrea and the entire Phillips family as they await Richard's return. This is truly a wonderful Easter Sunday. May God Bless the Phillips family and the great State of Vermont."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said: "Like all Vermonters, and people all across our great country, Marcelle and I had prayed for the safety of Captain Phillips. This morning, we prayed for him at Easter Mass, and as we left the church, I was notified by the White House that this courageous Vermonter was safe. Marcelle and I cheered, as I am certain so many Vermonters did-- especially the Phillips family--when they heard this great news. When I called Mrs. Phillips it was one of the happiest calls I ever made. What a memorable Easter Sunday!"
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said, "The people of Vermont are proud of the extraordinary courage of Capt. Phillips, the dignity of his family under great stress and the outstanding performance of the U.S. Navy and other governmental personnel in rescuing Richard and dispatching those who apprehended him. It is a happy Easter in Underhill and throughout the state."
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