Stealth bomber pilot meets Serb colonel who shot him down
They may not seem like the most obvious pen pals, but the American pilot of a F-117 Nighthawk Stealth bomber, shot down over Serbia during the 1999 Nato bombing campaign, has met the former Serb army colonel who shot him down.
Their meeting will feature in a new documentary film about their unusual relationship.
Twelve years after the battery he commanded shot the plane from the sky, Serb Colonel Zolten Dani and former USAF Lieutenant-Colonel Darrell Zelko made contact online and have forged a friendship despite one almost killing the other.
On the night of the 27 March 1999, Col Dani’s battalion of the Serbian military was deployed in the fields of western Serbia, hunting Nato aircraft in the skies above them with a S-125 Neva ground-to-air missile system.
Some 15,000ft above them, Lt-Col Zelko was piloting his plane out of Serbian airspace when suddenly his flight routine was shattered by a dazzling, blinding flash of flame to the left side of his aircraft, followed by a massive explosion.
His aircraft, radio call-sign Vega 31, had been “locked onto” by Col Dani’s unit’s air defence radar, and two ground-to-air missiles had been launched at him. Ten minutes later, Lt-Col Zelko had been shot down, one of America’s much-vaunted Stealth bombers had crashed into a Serbian field, and Lt-Col Zelko was evading his Serb pursuers on the ground. He was later rescued by US Special Forces.
Mr Dani now lives in the village of Skorenovac near Kovin in Serbia, where he has a bakery. Four years ago, Serb movie director Zeljko Mirkovic made a film about him called 21 Seconds.
Mr Dani recalled: “In that film there is a scene in which my elder son Atila is calling me to watch together a statement by the pilot Zelko, who spoke about how he felt when he was shot down above Yugoslavia.
“We are listening to his story and my son asks me what I would tell Zelko if we should meet one day.
“I said I would not mind meeting him since we both were professionals performing their tasks. I said I would invite him for a drink.
“That moment Mirkovic got the idea to realise what we were talking about and so we began working on the film, The Second Meeting.”
The two men established contact over the internet and began exchanging e-mails.
“There appeared a feeling that it was something special for both Zelko and me,” added Mr Dani. “Our relationship today is completely humane and without politics. I did not have dilemma at all whether I should meet with Zelko or not. We want to send a message to the world that peace is above all.”
However, 12 years after Nato bombed Kosovo and Serbia, peace has not been established in the former Serbian province, which declared independence in February 2008.
Kosovo’s Nato-led peacekeepers from the K-FOR mission confronted crowds of angry Serbs on Thursday as they tried to remove Serb roadblocks in the volatile north of the country.
For nearly three months, Kosovo Serbs have been blocking roads to stop its ethnic Albanian leadership from extending control over the part of the country populated mostly by ethnic Serbs.
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