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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK

How to rescue a pilot?

Kosovo: Special Report
The pilot of the first plane lost in the Kosovo campaign was rescued by a highly trained team after just a few hours.

It was the first American F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter ever to be lost in combat.

The Pentagon did not provide details of the rescue, but it is believed to have been a well-rehearsed operation involving a significant array of firepower and specially trained personnel.


The plane crashed near the village of Budjanovci, 40 km (25 miles) north-west of Belgrade.

[ image:  ]
First word that the plane was down came from Serb television, which showed vivid footage of a burning fighter.

The pilot parachuted from his cockpit, landing in the largely flat agricultural landscape. It was dark and the weather was poor.

He would have been trained to move as far away from the crash site as possible without betraying his location.

Mayday call

The pilot is reported to have made a mayday call with his radio beacon.

It would have been sent using an emergency code to other Allied aircraft in the area.

Once the signal had been picked up voice contact would be established.

The pilot would then pass on his position - usually in relation to a pre-arranged fixed grid reference so that anyone else listening would not know where he was - and a rendezvous arranged.

Rescue operation kicks off

A special rescue team then swings into action.

American joint service combat rescue teams are based at a US Special Forces headquarters at Brindisi, in southern Italy, and Tuzla, in northern Bosnia. Tuzla is situated less than 30 minutes flying time from the crash site.

The teams would have been on permanent stand-by since the air strike campaign against Yugoslavia began.

Rescuers fly in

For the dangerous rescue mission, the teams use Black Hawk helicopters customised for their needs. They are supported by Apache attack helicopters with five-mile-range Hellfire anti-armour missiles and 30mm cannon.

Defence experts say the Apaches would have been used to secure the area, ready to fire at any Serb vehicle approaching the scene.

Then the Black Hawks, carrying heavily armed soldiers, would have flown in - at tree-top level and below enemy radar - to a pick up the pilot.

President's praise

The teams are trained to land under enemy fire and fight their way out of hostile territory.

The Stealth pilot was taken back to the Nato air base in Aviano, northern Italy.

After the first rescue in Yugoslavia, President Bill Clinton said he was "tremendously proud of the skills of the pilot and the courageous individuals who participated in the recovery".

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