Fla. Librarian Presses Search for Friend
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 4:13 AM
MIAMI SPRINGS, Fla. -- For 20 years, Theodore Karantsalis has been haunted by one question: What happened to the body of his friend Paul Lorence after his Air Force jet crashed off the coast of Libya?
Karantsalis, a Miami-Dade County librarian, rewords the question about once a year, then fires off another Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon. Lorence's family in California has been asking the same question since learning the 31-year-old Air Force captain's plane went down during an April 15, 1986, U.S. strike on two Libyan cities.
The answer from military officials was almost always "we don't know." But buoyed by a report they recently obtained detailing a 2004 fact-finding trip military investigators took to the North African nation, the family and Karantsalis are hopeful about learning the location of Lorence's body.
"We have to find him, or we fail," Karantsalis said.
Lorence was a weapons system operator with the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing based in England when President Reagan ordered a bombing raid that targeted a frogman school, a Tripoli airfield and the compound that contained the military staff headquarters and family home of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Libya's leader. It was in retaliation for Libya's alleged involvement nine days earlier in the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub that killed two U.S. soldiers.
Lorence's F-111F, flown by Maj. Fernando Ribas-Dominicci, went down less than 10 miles from the Libyan coast. A search by the U.S. Navy failed to find any wreckage or either airman's body. Three years later, Libya returned Ribas-Dominicci's body, which they said had washed ashore. An autopsy determined that he had drowned.
Lorence's family recently made a personal appeal to the Libyan government for information, said the airman's younger stepbrother, Jeff Kruger, a private investigator and retired police detective in Antioch, Calif.
"We're asking for a humanitarian gesture from the Libyan government to ease our pain and suffering and answer as many questions about what happened to our family member," said Kruger, who has been making independent inquiries.
Lorence is considered killed in action-body not recovered, according to the Defense Department's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Affairs Office.
"I believe Libya does have these remains in their possession, and I feel it's time to confront our government and seek our government's assistance to get them back," Karantsalis said in his suburban Miami home.
Karantsalis and Lorence met as altar boys in the early 1970s in the San Francisco Bay area. Lorence became the younger boy's baby sitter and chauffeur to football games.
"Paul was a few years older. What that meant was Paul was able to drive a car. My father had extra tickets to Oakland Raiders games, and all I needed was somebody to take me," Karantsalis said. He last saw Lorence in a math class they shared at San Francisco State University in 1980.