A US Air Force veteran from Florida has been freed from six weeks in detention after he was shot down over Libya, reportedly participating in the country’s current civil war as a mercenary fighter pilot.
Jamie Sponaugle, a 31-year-old USAF vet who never took flight behind the controls of an American aircraft during his time in service, was reportedly shot down while piloting a Mirage F1 over Tripoli on May 7.
The Libyan National Army claim that Sponaugle was bombing targets in the area at the time the plane went down.
According to the Stars and Stripes, Sponaugle was flown to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, where he is expected to meet with US consular officials and undergo a medical and psychiatric examination.
“We are always pleased to see Americans held captive overseas returned home to their friends and family,” said Ambassador Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s envoy for hostage affairs. “We appreciate his captors’ decision to release him. We also thank the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its role in resolving this case.”
During his time in the USAF, Sponaugle worked as a mechanic on active duty from 2006 to 2013, and did an additional three years in the Florida Air National Guard. He learned to fly on his own time and earned a civilian pilot’s license.
After being shot down, Sponaugle was documented by the LNA, depicting a bloodied pilot claiming to be a Portugese national named Jimmy Rees.
Sponaugle is believed to have been subcontracted to fly in support of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, the LNA’s longtime rival.
US officials are baffled as to how Sponaugle got to Libya in the first place, let alone how someone with a private pilot’s license could pilot a French-built fighter jet.
It is unknown whether or not the fast-flying Floridian violated American law by fighting in Libya, though American security contractors have been known to operate in the region before.
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