On January 4, 1989 two US Navy F-14’s shot down two Libyan MiG-23’s. The Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi had drawn a ‘line of death’ in the Gulf of Sidra and declared that anyone crossing it would suffer the consequences.

Tensions were already high between the US and Libya as US officials had confronted Libya with accusations of constructing a chemical weapons plant near  their capital city Tripoli.

President Reagan was told of the shootdown via phone call from Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell at 2:53 am. The Pentagon was quick to deny the action had anything to do with the Libyan chemical plant and stated the US had not provoked the Libyans in anyway.

Listen to Actual Pilot Communications During the Shootdown

Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci said that the downing of the Libyan jets “had nothing to do whatsoever with that plant” and took place more than 600 miles away. He said the pilots of the two Navy F-14 Tomcats acted in self-defense after taking action to evade the Libyan fighters.

“The F-14 pilots maneuvered to avoid the closing aircraft,” Carlucci said. “They changed speed, altitude and direction. The Libyan aircraft continued to close in a hostile manner.”

Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi called the U.S. downing of the Libyan jets an act of “American terrorism” and vowed revenge, the official Libyan news agency reported.

Kadafi threatened to “meet challenge with challenge,” Libya’s Jana news agency said in a dispatch monitored in London. “If America has prevailed because it is a superpower in the air and the sea, it will inevitably be defeated on land. We, as well as the fish, are awaiting them,” Kadafi was quoted as saying. – Los Angeles Times (1989)

News of the incident caused some panic in the Libyan capital as residents feared further attacks by the US.

Photo of Soviet Mig 23 via public domain

Featured Image by U.S. Navy photo – Photographers Mate Airman Kristopher Wilson, via Wikimedia Commons