MOMBASA, KENYA (AP) - The U.S. sea captain rescued by U.S. Navy snipers left Kenya on an executive jet early Friday, the first step of a long-awaited journey home to America.
His head bowed, 53-year-old Capt. Richard Phillips exited a gray four-wheel-drive vehicle shielded by several officials at the international airport in Mombasa, Kenya, and entered the terminal building.
Wearing blue overalls and a baseball cap, the bearded American skipper did not talk to journalists. He then boarded a plane that was waiting on the tarmac, a light blue executive jet with the name of his company’s shipping line, Maersk, which took offs minutes later.
Phillips had been held by pirates for five days on an enclosed and drifting lifeboat in the Indian Ocean until he was freed Sunday by Navy SEAL sharpshooters. They killed his three captors with three shots taken from the a warship during a nighttime assault.
After the ordeal, the skipper was taken aboard the USS Bainbridge, which docked in Mombasa on Thursday, a day later than planned because it had to answer a distress call from another U.S. cargo ship attacked by pirates.
Phillips’ ordeal galvanized the attention of the U.S. public to the dangers of operating merchant ships in the Horn of Africa, one of the busiest and most precarious sea lanes in the world.
Phillips, of Underhill, Vermont, gave himself up as a hostage to ensure the safety of the 19-member crew of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, which was carrying food aid for hungry Africans _ including Somali _ when it was attacked.
The ship’s crew flew home from Kenya on Wednesday and were safely reunited with their families.