Arlington, Va. -- Captain Richard Phillips is now safe and healthy aboard the USS Boxer after Navy Seals launched a rescue attempt that ended when snipers killed three pirates in three shots, all direct hits to the head.
Vice Admiral William Gortney, Commander of Navy's 5th Fleet, told journalists at the Pentagon Sunday evening a decision was made to take the shots after the pirates were spotted pointing an AK-47 into the back of Captain Phillips.
As soon as the shots were fired, Navy Seals "scurried down" a tow line attached to the lifeboat, and were the first to get to Phillips. They surveyed the scene and found three dead pirates. Phillips was alive, although tied up.
The fourth pirate, who is now in U.S. custody, left the lifeboat hours earlier with the understanding he would negotiate from on board the USS Bainbridge, the massive Navy destroyer that shadowed the lifeboat for several days.
It soon became clear the younger pirate was simply turning himself in and had no intention of going back to lifeboat, according to defense officials.
Shortly after the Seals reached Captain Phillips, a Navy RIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) approached the life boat and safely escorted Phillips back to the Bainbridge. He has since undergone a medical exam and had the chance to take a shower.
According to Admiral Gortney he's healthy and unharmed.
The scene got "tenuous" according to one official, shortly after the three pirates agreed to let the Bainbridge tow their boat. The sea conditions were worsening and the lifeboat was "floundering" before pirates acknowledged that by establishing a tow, it would be a smoother ride.
But sometime soon after the boats were hooked together, shots were fired from the lifeboat and the pirates were seen holding a gun to Captain Phillips back. Acting on a standing order from President Obama to move in when Phillips was in "imminent danger" snipers were ordered to fire.
They established clear head shots on all three pirates. One of the pirates was visible through the front window, and the other two were revealing their heads through the top hatch, presumably to get fresh air. It would be their last breath.
It was an extremely happy ending to a story that doesn't often end well. Just last week the French lost one hostage after their Navy raided a hijacked sailing yacht.
Admiral Gortney left with a warning that today's outcome could lead to more violence in future hijackings, perhaps in the form of retaliation for losing three of their own.