The jet appears to have been taking part in operations over Yemen, however, the defense official wouldn’t say why the airmen ejected from the F-15 or why the plane went down over international waters.
Saudi Arabia requested assistance on Thursday afternoon Washington time from the U.S. after the airmen ejected from their plane, the official said.
An HH-60 helicopter flying from Djibouti, where the U.S. maintains a major regional base, recovered the two Saudi airmen at approximately 5:20 p.m. ET on Thursday. The recovery operation took about two hours from the time of notification to the rescue of the airmen, the defense official said.
The rescue operation, the official said, was coordinated by the USS Sterett, a destroyer operating in the region. The USS New York was also involved in the rescue, the official said.
The defense official said the two airmen were ambulatory after they recovered, but referred further questions to the Saudi government.
The request for assistance, the official said, was handled on the tactical level, not requiring contacts at high levels between the two governments. Military planners in the region took the call for emergency assistance and contacted the USS Sterett, which began the hunt for the pilots and called in the HH-60 from Djibouti
“It’s a great example of the logistical assistance we are providing,” said the U.S. official. The rescued airmen were initially taken back to the U.S. base in Djibouti, officials said.
The Saudi plane wasn’t shot down by enemy fire, the official said. While a mechanical problem is suspected, an investigation continues, the official said.
Saudi officials in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Also Friday, President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Mr. Obama expressed appreciation for the Saudi efforts. The White House said the two leaders also agreed there was no military solution to the Yemeni crisis and urged talks.
A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15SA "Saudi Advance" Eagle Strike fighter is an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter aircraft. The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15SA is an advanced fighter jet aircraft version of the F-15E Strike Eagle featuring state-of-the-art sensors and a wide range of guided and smart munitions. In December 2011 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia agreed with Boeing and the United States Government (USG) the purchase of 84 new-built F-15SA aircraft plus 12 options and the upgrade of 70 existing F-15E/F-15S to the SA standard under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.