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Pilot Killed by Friendly Fire to Be Buried at Arlington
Lt. Nathan White, whose F/A-18 C Hornet was accidentally shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile over Iraq, will be buried Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"It's a place where heroes are buried, where people gave everything, including their lives, for the liberties that we enjoy," said White's sister, Ana Mitchell of Provo. "Perhaps someday we might understand why things like this happen."
On April 2, White was flying his Hornet on a bombing run from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk when it was shot down during a fierce firefight between U.S. troops and the Iraqi Republican Guard. It was the first U.S. fighter jet downed in the war.
White, 30, was missing for 10 days, said his uncle, Ken Porter of Mantua.
"Because they found his parachute intact, we all hoped -- no we were convinced -- that he would be found alive," Porter said. "Tragically, it was not to be."
White's Hornet was shot down near Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. On April 13, Central Command said a Patriot battery had locked onto the Hornet in what may have been a friendly-fire accident.
It was the third time in the war with Iraq that a Patriot had failed to distinguish a friendly target from that of an enemy.
On March 25, a Patriot downed a British Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft, killing its two crew members. Two days later, an American F-16 pilot fired on a Patriot missile battery after the battery's radar locked onto the jet. The battery's radar was damaged.
Porter said White grew up in Texas, the second eldest of eight siblings. He often came to Utah to visit his grandparents, Hartley and Margaret Ruth White of Salt Lake City, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins and his two sisters, Mitchell and Caroline Bigelow, also of Provo.
His father, Dennis White of Texas, was an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War. His mother and stepparents also live in Texas.
Nathan White completed an LDS Church mission to Japan. He had met his wife, Akiko, in New York and returned with her to Provo, where he graduated from Brigham Young University in 1997 with an emphasis on Japanese studies. He joined the Navy and was commissioned as an ensign the following year. He earned his "Wings of Gold" in April 2001 at the top of his class.
In White's last e-mail home, he described a flying mission from the USS Kitty Hawk:
"Brief for an hour or more to map the flight, get catapulted from standstill to 140 miles an hour in less than two seconds, navigate through a maze of airborne highways that try to de-conflict aircraft and of course steer you clear of the Army's Patriot batteries, jump from radio frequency to radio frequency at least 12 different times shifting from controller to controller, avoid a sky full of AAA [anti-aircraft artillery], surface-to-air missiles and ballistic rockets, set up your weapons system, acquire your target, drop on target, fly to an airborne tanker, join up, get gas, and then fly back and land on a boat bobbing around in the middle of a sandstorm."
White ended by likening life to that flying mission.
"You will make mistakes," he wrote. "Learn from them. Just don't make the big ones. Don't be the person that finds yourself in a disintegrating fireball because you thought you could make it in at 100 feet."
White was killed while serving with the Strike Fighter Squadron 195, based in Atsugi, Japan. He is survived by his wife and children, Courtney, 7, Austin, 6, and Zachary, 3. Donations for his children may be made at any Zions Bank.