Underhill, Vt. The unassuming ship captain who escaped the clutches of Somali pirates made a triumphant return home Friday, insisting he’s no hero, just an ordinary seaman.
Richard Phillips said the U.S. Navy, which pulled off the daring high-seas rescue that ended his five-day captivity, deserves the credit.
“They’re the superheroes,” a relaxed, hale-looking Phillips said upon his arrival at Burlington International Airport. “They’re the titans. They’re impossible men doing an impossible job, and they did the impossible with me. ... They’re at the point of the sword every day, doing an impossible job every day.”
Phillips, who had offered himself up as a hostage after pirates made an aborted attempt to seize the Maersk Alabama cargo ship April 8 off the coast of Somalia, survived the ordeal after Navy snipers on the USS Bainbridge killed the three pirates holding him with simultaneous shots under the cover of night.
But he doesn’t want credit.
“I’m not a hero, the military is,” he said, appearing healthy and invigorated at a brief airport news conference shortly after his arrival. “I am just a bit part in this story, the small part of a seaman doing the best he can like all the other seamen out there.”
Not quite. Not every sailor gets a ride in a chartered jet, a police escort home and a hero’s welcome in his hometown. Phillips did.
His wife, Andrea, and their adult children, Daniel and Mariah, boarded the sky-blue Maersk corporate jet after it landed, greeting him.
Phillips, wearing a USS Bainbridge baseball cap, waved to a small, cheering crowd and hugged his daughter before disappearing into a building for a private reunion with his family. He emerged later to praise his fellow crew members.
“We did it,” he said, speaking with a thick New England accent. “We did what we were trained to do.”
When Phillips was rescued, his arms were bound. On Friday, abrasions and scabs could be seen on the insides of his forearms. Asked what the high-seas hostage experience was like, he said: “Indescribable, indescribable.”
After his airport appearance, Phillips, 53, was driven home in a dark sport utility vehicle, a Vermont State Police cruiser leading the way into the small rural community where he lives, past freshly tilled farm fields, a pen with spring lambs in it and clusters of neighbors who came out of their houses to wave as he passed.
He doffed the baseball cap and waved it out the window as he passed Chamberlin’s Garden & Farm Market, where four cars sat idling, their drivers honking their horns.
Arriving at his small white farmhouse, he found it festooned with ribbons, “Welcome Home” balloons and signs, with a flag-waving contingent of about 25 people standing on the other side of the road, cheering.
“To be able to come home, safe and sound, from such a harrowing experience ... oh, how Andrea’s heart must be filled with joy right now,” said Kathy Wright, of neighboring Jericho, a friend who waved red, white and blue pompoms when Phillips’ vehicle pulled into the driveway.