Stealth Fighter Down in Yugoslavia, Pilot Rescued
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 28, 1999 A U.S. F-117 Stealth fighter went down outside of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, March 27. A U.S. combat search and rescue team picked up the pilot several hours after the crash, and all returned safely to an undisclosed allied base.
"We do not know what caused this plane to crash," spokesman Ken Bacon said at the Pentagon shortly after the rescue was announced. "That's one of the things we'll learn as we interview the pilot and we talk to the people who flew the mission with him."
The Stealth fighter was reported missing at about 3 p.m. EST, Bacon said. "From that time until the moment we learned the pilot was safe and out of Yugoslav air space, we have concentrated on nothing but rescuing that pilot," he said.
Saluting the pilot's bravery and the rescue team's heroism, Bacon said, "they performed in a way that should make all Americans proud." He said the Stealth fighter has successfully flown hundreds of missions over Iraq and Yugoslavia through dense air defenses. "It will continue to be a mainline plane in this operation," he said.
Yugoslav officials claimed Serb air defenses shot down the Stealth fighter and Serb television aired video of the burning wreckage. The video was then rebroadcast on CNN. Bacon stressed that it was premature to make any judgment on why the plane crashed until NATO officials had talked to the pilot and others on the mission. Bacon denied Yugoslav claims that they have shot down several other NATO aircraft since Operation Allied Force began March 24. "We have no other confirmation of missing aircraft," he said. NATO aircraft, on the other hand, have shot down a total of five Yugoslav fighters, he confirmed.
Bacon refrained from providing further details on the loss of the Stealth fighter or the rescue effort. "This is a perilous environment. The Serbs have a robust air defense system. There may well be other times when we have to rescue pilots and the less said about our techniques for rescuing pilots, the better for the safety of the pilots."
Bacon stressed that the crash would not affect NATO's continuing air operations. "Nothing that happened today over Yugoslavia has dampened our resolve to see this operation through to its military ends," he said.
"We are undeterred by this," Bacon added. "We knew we were flying into a risky environment, and we will continue to fly in a way that minimizes the risk to our pilots while increasing our ability to perform our mission."
Bacon noted that earlier in the day, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana had announced that NATO was moving into phase two of the operation. NATO forces primarily targeted Yugoslav air defenses during phase one. In phase, two NATO is expanding the target list to focus more on the Yugoslav army and special police forces now operating in Kosovo.
NATO air power can seriously degrade the Yugoslavia's military infrastructure and diminish Yugoslav army and special police forces, Bacon said. "We will turn increasingly to dealing with forces in the field and the infrastructure necessary to support them."
NATO's goal is to diminish Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ability to continue "his murderous ways in Kosovo," Bacon said. "Those ways are continuing today. In fact, they've been intensifying, and we will intensify our efforts to stop that."