Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. war over the skies of Libya was just two days old when F-15 Pilot Major Kenneth Harney and Captain Tyler Stark got their mission - conduct airstrikes against Muammar Gadhafi's forces.
Harney in the front seat, Stark in the back.
After bombing their target, they turned for home...but suddenly the aircraft was spinning out of control. They were headed for a crash.
For the first time ever, Harney and Stark tell what happened in what would be the most tense hours for the U.S. military in its aid of the NATO mission.
"[It felt] very much like if you were driving your car down the road and you hit a patch of ice and your car starts spinning. That's exactly what our aircraft at that point was doing," recalled Harney.
Stark remembered, "There it was ok, first thought, this is really happening? A little bit surreal. We're spinning. This is not good -- very not good".
Harney said, "I call mayday mayday mayday."
"We're in the spin. We're falling. I'm counting down the altitudes," said Stark.
Harney and Stark bailed out and hoped they didn't land in the middle of Gadhafi's forces.
"i was scared. There's no doubt in my mind that I was terrified," Harney said.
The two had landed in separate locations.
On the ground, Harney spends the next three hours on the run...trying to hide, and radio his position to U.S. plane overhead.
The marines fly in a rescue team. Harney wants no mistakes, "So i put my hands up in the air, hoping they don't come at me very hostile at this point. At that point i don't care if they put me in cuffs. I dont' care if they throw a bag over my head. I know i just want to be on that helicopter."
Stark wound up in a field. Suddenly two vehicles approached. Someone called out.
Stark recalled, "I hear the voice a little bit closer...American come out we are here to help."
Lights were shining right at his hiding position.
"I get up and put my hands up and start walking to the voice. Once i get there my impression is OK, you have to assume that they are the bad guys. So i appraoch them thinking OK, I am caught, this is really not good, this is not where I want to be and they said 'hey we are here to help.' "
He's driven to a nearby building, still very much on his guard.
"There is a half circle of locals and i'm thinking this is going to go one of two ways. Either this is where the beatings are going to start or this is where i am going to get a lot of help. Fortunately i walked into the room and got a round of applause," Stark said.
With the stress, Stark couldn't remember the number to call in the United Kingdom for rescue, so, he called his father, from Libya.
Stark recalled of the situation, "In the age of cellphones, whose number do you know off the top of your head? Well, your parents. So i called [my dad] up, spoke with my dad and said hey, I need you to make a call for me."
Stark was sheltered by the friendly Libyans until an Italian boat came and picked him up.
What when wrong with the F-15 that night? Investigators believe one of the flight manuvers threw the plane off balance for a variety of technical reasons the crew could not have anticipated.