RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - A plane carrying rescued U.S. POW Jessica Lynch left for the United States on Saturday after a week of treatment at a military hospital in western Germany.
The C-17 military transporter took off from Ramstein Air Base at 2:20 p.m. with the 19-year-old private first class, several members of her family, and some 50 other injured soldiers on board. She was expected to travel to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Lynch, a supply clerk from Palestine, W. Va., was captured March 23 after her 507th Maintenance Company convoy was ambushed in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. She was rescued from a hospital in the city April 1 by U.S. commandos - reportedly after a tip from an Iraqi lawyer - and airlifted to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
The flight was expected to take about nine hours.
Lynch's condition has improved after treatment at Landstuhl for a head wound, an injury to her spine and fractures to her right arm, both legs, and her right foot and ankle. Gunshots may have caused open fractures on her upper right arm and lower left leg, according to the hospital.
It remains unclear whether the injuries were received when her unit was ambushed or while in captivity. U.S. military officials and her family have yet to talk about the specifics of how she was injured.
Although she cannot yet stand up, Lynch has been able to sit and talk with her parents, sister and brother and a cousin, who had been staying with her at the hospital since Sunday.
"She is in pain, but she is in good spirits," the family said in a statement released after her departure. "Although she faces a lengthy rehabilitation, she is tough."
On Saturday, Lynch and her family were brought to the waiting plane in a blue ambulance bus. Lying under a blanket, she was one of twelve patients carried onto the plane on stretchers.
"She should receive more physical therapy and rehabilitation" in the United States, said Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman for Landstuhl. It was unclear whether Lynch would require more surgery.
Lynch's family thanked their daughter's caregivers and rescuers.
"It is almost impossible to express how grateful we are to the brave American service members who participated in Jessi's rescue and to the courageous Iraqi citizens who risked their lives to make her rescue possible," they said.
Many of the details of Lynch's rescue remain unclear, despite intense media interest in the United States.
She has been debriefed by the military, but her family says she has spoken little of her ordeal and that they will not grant interviews until she has "settled in" in the United States, so as not to endanger her recovery.