Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fw: TheList 4399

The List 4399
To All,
I hope you all having a great weekend.
·         February 19
The revolt of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, against King Henry IV, ends with his defeat and death at Bramham Moor.
Philip V of Spain makes his ceremonial entry into Madrid.
Vice President Aaron Burr is arrested in Alabama for treason. He is later found innocent.
Rescuers finally reach the ill-fated Donner Party in the Sierras.
Russian Tsar Alexander II abolishes serfdom.
Smallpox vaccination becomes obligatory in France.
The Austria-Hungary government decrees a mandatory two year military service.
British and French warships begin their attacks on the Turkish forts at the mouth of the Dardenelles, in an abortive expedition to seize the straits of Gallipoli.
American troops are recalled from the Mexican border.
The First Pan African Congress meets in Paris, France.
President Calvin Coolidge proposes the phasing out of inheritance tax.
Dr. Lane of Princeton estimates the earth's age at one billion years.
Port Darwin, on the northern coast of Australia, is bombed by the Japanese.
The U.S. Eighth Air Force and Royal Air Force begin "Big Week," a series of heavy bomber attacks against German aircraft production facilities.
Fourteen Vietnam War protesters are arrested for blocking the United Nations' doors in New York.
Robert F. Kennedy suggests the United States offer the Vietcong a role in governing South Vietnam.
Britain slashes welfare spending.
The U.S. State Department calls El Salvador a "textbook case" of a Communist plot.
New York Governor Mario Cuomo declares that he will not run for president in the next election.
The note on the history above did not seem adequate to describe what the
Marines did on Iwo Jima 71 years ago so I got more of the story from
Seamus' "All Hands"
Also remember that having that island and airfields saved thousands of air
crew who were flying missions to Japan and used it as an emergency field.
The Marine invasion of Iwo Jima (1st US attack on the Japanese Home
Islands) began on February 19, 1945.  It was known as Operation Detachment.
 The Marines were charged with the mission of capturing the airfields on
the island which up until that time had harried U.S. bombing missions to
Tokyo.  Once the bases were secured, they could then be used in the
impending invasion of the Japanese mainland.
B-24 Liberators flying from the Marianna's bombed the island for 74 days
prior to the invasion.  Naval ships consisting of 6 battleships, 5 cruisers
and many destroyers of Task Force 54 provided a 3 day pre-landing
bombardment.  Intelligence sources estimated that the island would fall in
a week's time.  Unfortunately, no one knew at the time that island had been
heavily fortified.  There were vast bunkers, hidden artillery and 11 miles
of interconnecting tunnels.
The battle produced some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Campaign
of WWII.  Besides the fortifications, the inhospitable terrain consisting
of volcanic ash made walking difficult and building foxholes for protection
impossible.  Night raids by the Japanese and hand-to-hand combat were
common occurrences.  The bunkers were connected to the tunnels in such a
way that even after the use of flamethrowers and grenades, the Japanese
soldiers were able to return to the bunkers and resume their fighting.  The
Marines literally won the 8 square mile island, inch by bloody inch.
Of the approximate 20,000 Japanese troops on the island, less than 1,000
were taken prisoner.  Most Japanese fought to the death or chose ritual
suicide instead of surrendering.
Of the 110,000 Marines and Navy Corpsman who took part in the battle, 6,821
were killed (this included over 300 Navy Corpsman) and 19,217 were wounded.
 The number of American casualties were greater than the total Allied
casualties at the Battle of Normandy on D-Day.
On March 26, 1945, the island of Iwo Jima was declared secure ... 37 days
after the battle began.  Henceforth, Iwo Jima would appear on the list in
Marine Corps history alongside such places as Belleau Woods, Chosin
Reservoir and Guadalcanal.
Twenty-seven Medal of Honor medals were awarded for actions during the
battle.  Of these, 14 were awarded posthumously.  Marines earned 22 of the
medals, Navy Corpsman earned 4 and a Naval officer from the USS LCI won the
other.  Of the total number of Medal of Honor medals awarded to Marines in
WWII, 27% of those were awarded to the Marines who fought on Iwo Jima.
By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of
the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which
only history will be able to value fully.  Among the Americans who served
on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.   Admiral Chester W.
Nimitz, U.S. Navy
Thanks to Ed …
In case you missed the launch live …
Move to 37 min. in the video to see the landing.  Still amazing that they can take a booster that is moving away from the launch site, and bring it back to a precision landing.  Didn't realize that the small perforated plates are for maneuvering, along w. the rocket jets that you can see exhausting when still in space …
Then, if you're interested, scan across the launch, booster separations, etc...
AMAZING feat by SpaceX!!
Click on the photo below, or the link below it to go to the SpaceX site and webcast video ….
Thanks to Chuck
They could hear it before they could see it! Not all that unusual in those days as the personnel at Station 131 gathered around the tower and scattered hardstands to await the return of the B-17's sent out earlier that morning. First comes the far off rumble and drone of the Cyclones. Then a spec on the East Anglia horizon. Soon a small cluster indicating the lead squadron. Finally, the group. Then the counting. 1-2-3-4-5... But that would have been normal.
Today was different! It was too early for the group to return. "They're 20 minutes early. Can't be the 398th." They could hear it before they could see it! Something was coming home. But what?
All eyes turned toward the northeast, aligning with the main runway, each ground guy and stood-down airman straining to make out this "wail of a Banshee," as one called it. Not like a single B-17 with its characteristic deep roar of the engines blended with four thrashing propellers. This was a howl! Like a powerful wind blowing into a huge whistle. Then it came into view. It WAS a B-17!
Low and pointing her nose at the 6,000 foot runway, it appeared for all the world to be crawling toward the earth, screaming in protest. No need for the red flares. All who saw this Fort knew there was death aboard. "Look at that nose!" they said as all eyes stared in amazement as this single, shattered remnant of a once beautiful airplane glided in for an unrealistic "hot" landing. She took all the runway as the "Banshee" noise finally abated, and came to an inglorious stop in the mud just beyond the concrete runway.
Men and machines raced to the now silent and lonely aircraft. The ambulance and medical staff were there first. The fire truck... ground and air personnel... jeeps, truck, bikes... Out came one of the crew members from the waist door, then another. Strangely quiet. The scene was almost weird. Men stood by as if in shock, not knowing whether to sing or cry. Either would have been acceptable. The medics quietly made their way to the nose by way of the waist door as the remainder of the crew began exiting. And to answer the obvious question, "what happened?"
"What happened?" was easy to see. The nose was a scene of utter destruction. It was as though some giant aerial can opener had peeled the nose like an orange, relocating shreds of metal, plexiglas, wires and tubes on the cockpit windshield and even up to the top turret. The left cheek gun hung limp, like a broken arm. One man pointed to the crease in chin turret. No mistaking that mark! A German 88 anti-aircraft shell had exploded in the lap of the togglier. This would be George Abbott of Mt. Labanon, PA. He had been a waist gunner before training to take over the bombardier's role.
Still in the cockpit, physically and emotionally exhausted, were pilot Larry deLancey and co-pilot Phil Stahlman. Navigator Ray LeDoux finally tapped deLancey on the shoulder and suggested they get out. Engineer turret gunner Ben Ruckel already had made his way to the waist was exiting along with radio operator Wendell Reed, ball turret gunner Al Albro, waist gunner Russell Lachman and tail gunner Herbert Guild. Stahlman was flying his last scheduled mission as a replacement for regular co-pilot, Grady Cumbie. The latter had been hospitalized the day before with an ear problem. Lachman was also a "sub," filling in for Abbott in the waist.
DeLancey made it as far as the end of the runway, where he sat down with knees drawn up, arms crossed and head down. The ordeal was over, and now the drama was beginning a mental re-play. Then a strange scene took place. Group CO Col. Frank P. Hunter had arrived after viewing the landing from the tower and was about to approach DeLancey. He was physically restrained by flight surgeon Dr. Robert Sweet. "Colonel, that young man doesn't want to talk now. When he is ready you can talk to him, but for now leave him alone."
Sweet handed pills out to each crew member and told them to go to their huts and sleep. No dramatics, no cameras, no interviews. The crew would depart the next day for "flak leave" to shake off the stress. And then be expected back early in November. (Just in time to resume "normal" activities on a mission to Merseburg!)
Mission No. 98 from Nuthampstead had begun at 0400 that morning of October 15, 1944. It would be Cologne (again), led by CA pilots Robert Templeman of the 602nd, Frank Schofield of the 601st and Charles Khourie of the 603rd.
Tragedy and death appeared quickly and early that day. Templeman and pilot Bill Scott got the 602nd off at the scheduled 0630 hour, but at approximately 0645 Khouri and pilot Bill Meyran and their entire crew crashed on takeoff in the town of Anstey. All were killed. Schofield and Harold Stallcup followed successfully with the 601st, with DeLancey flying on their left wing in the lead element.
The ride to the target was routine, until the flak started becoming "unroutinely" accurate. "We were going through heavy flak on the bomb run," remembered DeLancey. "I felt the plane begin to lift as the bombs were dropped, then all of a sudden we were rocked by a violent explosion. My first thought - 'a bomb exploded in the bomb bay' - was immediately discarded as the top of the nose section peeled back over the cockpit blocking the forward view."
"It seemed like the whole world exploded in front of us," added Stahlman. "The instrument panel all but disintegrated and layers of quilted batting exploded in a million pieces. It was like a momentary snowstorm in the cockpit." It had been a direct hit in the nose. Killed instantly was the togglier, Abbott. Navigator LeDoux, only three feet behind Abbott, was knocked unconscious for a moment, but was miraculously was alive. Although stunned and bleeding, LeDoux made his way to the cockpit to find the two pilots struggling to maintain control of an airplane that by all rights should have been in its death plunge. LeDoux said there was nothing anyone could do for Abbott, while Ruckel opened the door to the bomb bay and signaled to the four crewman in the radio room that all was OK - for the time being.
The blast had torn away the top and much of the sides of the nose, depositing enough of the metal on the windshield to make it difficult for either of the pilots to see. "The instrument panel was torn loose and all the flight instruments were inoperative with the exception of the magnetic compass mounted in the panel above the windshield. And its accuracy was questionable. The radio and intercom were gone, the oxygen lines broken, and there was a ruptured hydraulic line under my rudder pedals," said DeLancey. All this complicated by the sub-zero temperature at 27,000 feet blasting into the cockpit.
"It was apparent that the damage was severe enough that we could not continue to fly in formation or at high altitude. My first concern was to avoid the other aircraft in the formation, and to get clear of the other planes in case we had to bail out. We eased out of formation, and at the same time removed our oxygen masks as they were collapsing on our faces as the tanks were empty." At this point the formation continued on its prescribed course for home - a long, slow turn southeast of Cologne and finally westward. DeLancey and Stahlman turned left, descending rapidly and hoping, they were heading west. (And also, not into the gun sights of German fighters.) Without maps and navigation aids, they had difficulty getting a fix. By this time they were down to 2,000 feet. "We finally agreed that we were over Belgium and were flying in a southwesterly direction," said the pilot.
"About this time a pair of P-51's showed up and flew a loose formation on us across Belgium. I often wondered what they thought as they looked at the mess up front." "We hit the coast right along the Belgium-Holland border, a bit farther north than we had estimated. Ray said we were just south of Walcheren Island." Still in an area of ground fighting, the plane received some small arms fire. This gesture was returned in kind by Albro, shooting from one of the waist guns. "We might have tried for one of the airfields in France, but having no maps this also was questionable. Besides, the controls and engines seemed to be OK, so I made the decision to try for home."
"Once over England, LeDoux soon picked up landmarks and gave me course corrections taking us directly to Nuthampstead. It was just a great bit of navigation. Ray just stood there on the flight deck and gave us the headings from memory." Nearing the field, Stahlman let the landing gear down. That was an assurance. But a check of the hydraulic pump sent another spray of oil to the cockpit floor. Probably no brakes! Nevertheless, a flare from Ruckel's pistol had to announce the "ready or not" landing. No "downwind leg" and "final approach" this time. Straight in! "The landing was strictly by guess and feel," said DeLancey. "Without instruments, I suspect I came in a little hot. Also, I had to lean to the left to see straight ahead. The landing was satisfactory, and I had sufficient braking to slow the plane down some. However, as I neared the taxiway, I could feel the brakes getting 'soft'.
I felt that losing control and blocking the taxiway would cause more problems than leaving the plane at the end of the runway." That consideration was for the rest of the group. Soon three squadrons of B-17's would be returning, and they didn't need a derelict airplane blocking the way to their respective hardstands.
Stahlman, supremely thankful that his career with the 398th had come to an end, soon returned home and in due course became a captain with Eastern Airlines. Retired in 1984, Stahlman said his final Eastern flight "was a bit more routine" than the one 40 years before.
DeLancey and LeDoux received decorations on December 11, 1944 for their parts in the October 15 drama. DeLancey was awarded the Silver Star for his "miraculous feat of flying skill and ability" on behalf of General Doolittle, CO of the Eighth Air Force. LeDoux for his "extraordinary navigation skill", received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The photos below show the extensive damage to this crew's B-17

They must have had help from above to make it back to their base.
Thanks to Mo ….
Guaranteed to bring forth a laugh .. or two … or many!!
Click on the link below it ...
Fishing can be hard work! And very funny!
This is a 'must watch'....even if you do not fish.
Thanks to Carl
(Actually, very smart the way he is positioned and hanging on!  Checking six!!)

'Trash raccoon' rides garbage truck from Rosslyn to Falls Church

February 17, 2017 1:15 pm
(Updated at 1:36 p.m.) A raccoon apparently took a wild ride through Arlington today.
Politico reporter Helena B. Evich first spotted an adventurous animal hitching a ride on the back of an American Disposal Services trash truck in Rosslyn a little after 11 a.m. this morning.
Naturally, she tweeted about it:
Evich also called American Disposal Services to report the creature she dubbed the "trash raccoon." Eventually, that report made its way to Anna Wilkinson, the company's communications director.
"As soon as we found out that the raccoon was on the truck, the driver pulled over because we didn't want the raccoon to get injured," Wilkinson said.
By the time the driver pulled over, the truck had traveled all the way from Rosslyn to Falls Church. Wilkinson said she then called the Falls Church Police Department's animal control team, who came to retrieve the skittish stowaway and make sure it was out of harm's way.
"He looked like he was hanging on pretty tightly," Wilkinson said. "The picture is adorable."
Wilkinson later confirmed the raccoon was removed safely and without harm.
Courtesy of JC
L.A.P.D. pursuit and the shootout 04/11/2011 (from movie "End Of Watch")
Thanks to Mugs
Rescue of Vega 31
On the night of March 27/28, 1999, a Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter, call sign Vega 31, went missing over Serbia. The next day, photographs showing exultant Serb soldiers and civilians clambering over the wreckage were flashed on the worldwide news media.
The message was clear, the unthinkable had happened. A super secret invisible Stealth Fighter had been shot out of the sky. For years afterwards the details of that engagement over Belgrade remained one of the best-kept secrets of modern aerial warfare. To this day, the US Air Force will not reveal the exact details of that operation, as F-117s are still an important part of its strike capability.
Much has been said about the aircraft and the significance of its loss. But little is known about its pilot, and the intense experience he went through from the instant he realized his fighter was doomed, to the moment when he was safely home after an against-all-odds Combat Search and Rescue operation.
In early July, Lieutenant-Colonel Dale Zelko, Vega Three-One, visited Brazil, at which time we were able to talk to him about his adventure. Dale Zelko joined the Air Force after picking up an Academy brochure in high school. After Undergraduate Pilot Training, he remained in Enid Oklahoma as a T-37 instructor before transferring to an A-10 squadron based out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on a hardship tour as he jokingly describes it. After three years honing his skills as a mud-moving hog driver he was picked as a candidate for the black world F-117 community, whose existence had just been acknowledged by the Air Force, and joined one of two operational units at the Tonopah Test Range, located in the high desert of Nevada just 140 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
From there on he picks up the story…
RFA - What was the selection process for the F-117 like?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - The F-117 Program has been an incredible accomplishment for the U.S. Air Force. What was so impressive about it was how we were able to keep it so closely held. We not only tested and developed the aircraft but we had two fully operational squadrons of those planes as far back as 1983! The Air Force only acknowledged the existence of these aircraft in November 1988. To select new pilots the leadership at Tonopah would contact all the fighter units out there asking for candidates with a minimum of 1,000 hours in fighters and who possessed a special operational maturity that would allow him to fit into this very selective community. The group at Tonopah at that time was very senior, mostly Majors and Lieutenant Colonels. I was a mid-level Captain then and one of two in my particular training class.
And Wow what a Program! We had five retired Air Force Vietnam veteran fighter pilots as classroom and simulator instructors, for the two of us! They took great care of us. We all lived in the greater Las Vegas community area and we commuted from Nellis AFB every Monday via Key Airlines, a contract commercial airline. We had our own rooms up at Tonopah where we'd spend the next five days. It was almost like going remote every week. We would fly two waves Monday night, three on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and then we would all head back home again on Friday.
RFA - You flew only nights?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Only nights for operational training missions. At that time we were really in the Vampire mode. I wouldn't go into work until about three-thirty in the afternoon and get done at work at about 3:30-4:00 in the morning.
RFA - So your first combat experience was in Desert Storm?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - One of our squadrons deployed to Saudi Arabia around September 1990. My squadron deployed for Desert Shield in December. We were based at Khamis Mushait down in the southwest part of Saudi only about 80 miles north of the Yemeni border, up in the high mountains, actually an area very similar to Tonopah. January 17, 1991 is when Desert Storm kicked off and as everybody knows, the F-117s dropped the first bombs. I was actually on the second wave on the first night, which was very ugly because they were awake after the first strikes. I flew combat missions in the F-117 throughout the War. There weren't many of us. In fact, to give you an idea of how small the F-117 community really is, a few years ago we had our 20 Years of the Nighthawk Reunion and we had just checked out the 450th operational F-117 pilot in 20 years. Also, at the end of Operation Allied Force, I became one of only three pilots who had flown the Black Jet into combat in two wars. There was a pilot who dropped bombs over Panama who was also at Desert Storm and two of us who flew in Iraq and over the Former Republic of Yugoslavia.
RFA - What was Desert Storm like from a pilot's point of view?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - In Desert Storm we did a real good job of shutting down, or at least severely crippling their IADS - Integrated Air Defense System. The Iraqis had great equipment capability and they were well trained, but we hammered them from the very first moments of the War. Our Special Ops forces were the first ones in country taking down the early warning radars on the borders. The Wild Weasels were really effective at keeping the heads of the Surface to Air Missile (SAM) operators down and that certainly made it easier for us low observable folks to operate and survive. Their integrated air defense system was greatly hindered early on, but the Triple-A was wicked, it was unbelievable. Most people likely assume we were well above that stuff. Far from it. We flew most of our combat target runs right smack in the heart of some of the worst Triple-A, 23 and 37mm mostly. And even when not vulnerable to 23 and 37mm, we were operating well within effective reach of the low, medium, and higher altitude airburst Triple-A. Through the whole war it never got better.
Folks also may assume that Downtown Baghdad was the worst area. It was bad, but it was just as bad if not worse in other areas. For example, I remember targets in and around Al-Taqqadum and Tallil airfields where the Triple-A was just fierce. They were putting up barrage fire, curtain fire, sector fire and you just had to drive right through it. The best description of the Triple-A in Desert Storm that I've ever heard came from one of the pilots on my wave that first night. He said: "You know, it was like a little kid trying to run through a sprinkler and not get wet." I remember flying through that stuff and thinking: "There's no way I'm not going to get hit and downed by this stuff. Boy I hope I live! I just can't see how it's possible that I'm going to get through this target run and still be flying." We were amazed that we didn't lose a single F-117 pilot or aircraft on all of Desert Storm. It was truly a miracle.
RFA - And it was mostly Triple-A?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Triple-A was the most common. We saw SAM launches, but most of the SAM launches that I saw, even the ones that were fairly close, seemed like they were unguided shots. Almost as if they were shooting them off like rockets, trying to get lucky.
RFA - What happened after Desert Storm?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - I left Tonopah in early 1992, maybe 8 to 9 months before the Wing moved to Holloman AFB, New Mexico. I returned to the Academy as a Special Duty Commander, served in Headquarters Air Combat Command at Langley, and then returned to the F-117. I was attached to the 8th Fighter Squadron, the Black Sheep of World War II fame. In between, actually in May 1998, I did deploy to augment the 9th FS at Ahmed Al Jaber in Kuwait.
RFA - And then Allied Force finally came up?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - As things were cranking up in Yugoslavia, the 8th deployed during the third week of February 1999. I flew a jet from Holloman to Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy in a demanding nonstop 14 hour and 45 minute flight. It was the longest flight I have ever done. The most challenging part of that deployment sortie for me was over the Atlantic Ocean at nighttime. It was deathly black and I could not find a horizon line out there. I have never fought so hard against spatial disorientation before. And the F-117's cockpit is really very susceptible to spatial disorientation; it's a constant challenge not to get sucked into it. It was mentally and physically exhausting.
RFA - How would you compare Allied Force to Desert Storm?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Allied Force was a different story. The dynamics of the politics involved created many constraints, which prevented us from employing optimum tactics. I also felt that at the beginning of Allied Force there was an overall element of complacency in our attitude of seriousness. And boy, was that the wrong attitude. During the month or so that we were there getting ready for operations, I was really concerned about how we were planning on going into operations. The whole scenario was very confusing at first, the reason being, there were a lot of different operations going on directed by a variety of entities, such as NATO and the UN, and when we first started flying combat missions we still hadn't developed appropriate special instructions, having to rely on those being used by what were essentially peace keeping forces. So believe it or not, on those first few nights of the war, we were briefed and told that if we went down, and captured, we were to claim that we were not enemy combatants. This of course was ridiculous. All of that changed dramatically, immediately after the Vega 31 episode. The F-117 downing and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) was a much needed wake up call.
In Yugoslavia, we did not go in there and pound their IADS. We essentially left it untouched, which was significant. There's a large difference, even for a low observable platform, if you're going in against a crippled IADS compared to a full-up very capable system. My experience with the triple-A was not nearly what I experienced during Desert Storm, but certainly the threat from the SAM systems, combined with the factors hindering us from operating in an optimum tactical way, as well as other elements, all came together opening the way for the shoot down.
RFA - How did you typically operate against FRY targets?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - We sort of divided up Yugoslavia into a northern and southern half. If we were going after targets in the north, we would fly out of Aviano across Slovenia, rendezvous with our tankers over Hungary, wait for our push time, stealth up, drop off the tankers and away we'd go on our strike missions. There were either one or two targets depending on the target itself and on what kind of weapons we were carrying.
Traditionally, our weapons load consisted of two 2,000lb smart bombs. If our targets were in the south, we would fly down the Adriatic, refuel off the tankers maybe 2/3 of the way down, push through Montenegro, and go in that way.
RFA - So I guess that takes us to the night of March 27?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - I flew on the first wave March 24th, the first night of Allied Force. I flew again on the third night and then I flew on the fourth night. My objective that night was a critical, heavily defended target in and around Belgrade. I knew what I was up against. Serbia was defended by a superior IADS encompassing state of the art Russian equipment, and manned by highly trained, skilled and extremely motivated operators. My target had actually been on the planning board, and flown against before, unsuccessfully. So there was another attempt on the fourth night, this time successful, yet at what cost. It was a very challenging night, weather wise, and all other Allied Force strike packages had been cancelled. Only our eight ship of F-117's went out after targets in the northern part of the country. In fact, later on that night, maybe three to four hours later, there would be another wave of low observable aircraft coming through in the form of B-2 Bombers.
During the early portion of ingress, just as I was pushing into country, I was monitoring a primary strike frequency, listening to other events unfolding that were part of the strike mission. Even before stepping to the aircraft from my squadron life support shop, I had a deep feeling and sense that if any night was particularly suitable for my aircraft being shot down, that this was it. I was well aware of my vulnerabilities, the risks and dangers of that mission that night. The information coming over the radio during ingress, simply increased my gut feeling that something bad was very likely to happen this night. So when it happened it didn't surprise me at all. As a matter of fact, I watched it happen!
RFA - You didn't even get a RWR tone?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - That gets into capabilities of the F-117. But I will tell you that I visually watched the surface to air missile engagement, and that even in its early stages there was no doubt in my mind that they had me. I did everything I could to prevent it but it was just unavoidable. And remember, I had a front row seat throughout the entire engagement.
So was it pilot related? No. Was it maintenance related? No. Was it a good shot? Yes, it was a good shot. I can't get into details about exactly how they were able to put a surface to air missile warhead into the same airspace as an F-117 low-observable aircraft because that's very sensitive, even today. But I can kind of give you a sense. You know it's not invisible technology. We have never said it was invisible technology, we've always said it was low-observable technology. You know the F-117 relies a great deal on its low-observable characteristics to survive.
So, just like anything, there are limitations and vulnerabilities. And if you give an adversary the opportunity to exploit them, they will. The Serbs are great warfighters and they certainly saw the opportunity. So essentially, we gave them the opportunity because of the way we were operating. They saw the opening, they took advantage of it, and it was just a good shot. Was it preventable by us if we had changed things? Yes, absolutely.
RFA - So you saw it coming.
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - There were two missiles that I saw, however, there may have been others. I started tracking them visually right after launch and I could tell immediately. I thought to myself, matter-of-factly: "You know what? This is bad. I don't think I'm going to skinny through this one." I had been shot at many times before, but that was the first time I'd ever felt so strongly that I wouldn't make it due to SAM technology.
The first missile went right over the top of me. So close, actually, that I was surprised it didn't proximity fuse on me. I could feel the shock wave of it buffeting the aircraft. As soon as it went over I quickly re-acquired the second missile visually and when I did, I thought: "It's goin' to run right into me." And it sure felt like it did.
RFA - So it was a direct hit?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - It may have proximity fused, I don't know absolutely. In theory, if it didn't have a warhead in it, if it was just a harpoon or a tree trunk would it have gone through my aircraft? I don't know for certain. But if you look at the photos of the wreckage, my entire left wing was missing.
RFA - And then what?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - The impact was extremely violent and it slammed the aircraft into a left roll, negative g tuck. I estimate seven, if not more negative Gs, which is enormous. Physiological training experts will tell you that 3.5 or so negative Gs, is the point of total incapacitation. I figure what that plane went through was double that. It was a miracle that I was conscious to begin with. Frank-36, a KC-135 tanker refueling F-16s in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and with whom I later established contact, had a grandstand view of it all. He said: "We had just finished refueling and I was looking towards the Belgrade area when all of a sudden I saw a series of airborne explosions and then one really big one. Less than two minutes later I picked up Vega-31 making Mayday calls on the guard frequency." Even though I strap in extremely tight, because of the way the G forces were acting on the plane and ejection seat, my body was sliding out from underneath the lap belt. Normally, I like to sit with the ejection seat all the way up in order to better look outside the cockpit, so the clearance between the top of my helmet and the canopy is pretty small to start with. So I was pinned to the top of the shoulder straps, with my butt way out of the seat and my torso doubled over in the worst possible position for an ejection. I was immobilized in this awkward position by the 7 negative G force of the tumbling plane, trying to get my hands down to the side ejection handles. Despite the violence of the event, mentally and emotionally it was all very calm for me. I figured the only thing I could do was to push isometrically with my head against the top of the canopy which would perhaps straighten my spine somewhat once the canopy blew, and before the seat went up the rails. And I tried that move, almost like a wrestler who's pinned down on his back trying the bridge maneuver. I don't know if it had any effect. It was amazing to many that I survived at all.
I remember every fragment of the entire strike mission, shoot down, ejection, and CSAR. All, that is, except one. There's just one slice of this entire affair that to this day I just can't get a hold of. I can't recall it as if it never happened. And that's actually reaching the ejection handles and pulling. I may have been unconscious which makes me know even more strongly that I had some help from Heaven getting to those handles and pulling. And in that body position I probably barely got a fingertip in those handles. The next thing I remember is I'm in the seat out of the aircraft. I can see the cockpit falling away from me and I don't recall the 18g kick in the butt. I don't recall going up the ejection seat rails, none of that. As I was tumbling through the air, myriad thoughts went through my mind, all in a casual, light humorous sort of way. I even remember seeing a mental imagine of myself kicking the dirt with one foot saying: "Nuts, isn't this inconvenient. My Mom's not going to be happy with me and I might not be able to call my daughter tomorrow on her birthday", who would be turning ten. The good news is that I was able to call her.
RFA - All this while you were still in the seat?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Yes. Another thought that came to my mind had me imagining standing next to the Serbian SAM operator, enjoying a light conversation and congratulating him. "Real nice shot!" Then I remember saying to him, "But you're not going to get me!" Not in an arrogant or cocky way, but with a surge of determination flooding my mind. I realized immediately how important it was to deny the adversary the exploitation and propaganda potential of having a captured senior officer F-117 pilot. This remained a powerful source of determination for me. I estimate I was between 8 and nine thousand feet when I first got under canopy. It was 19:40 Zulu, 20:40 local time. From pulling the handles to a fully inflated parachute it takes 1.4 seconds. To me it seemed like hours. I instantly went from this extreme violence and chaos to absolute calm when the canopy inflated. All I could hear was a gentle swishing sound of the seat kit and life raft hanging below me on its 25-foot lanyard as the canopy went through its normal oscillation. So I looked down and quickly started getting oriented. Looking north, the first thing I could see was Belgrade off to my right.
RFA - Was it lit?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Oh yeah! Fully lit. And then underneath me, slightly south/southwest, I could see two little fires burning and I figured that was the aircraft. I looked down and saw the seat kit and life raft; I didn't even think to specifically check for injuries. The first time I realized I had an injury was about an hour and a half after ejection at my hole up site on the ground. The next thing I did was check my equipment. I still had my mask on so I disconnected it and tossed it away. My helmet was still on but the visor was gone. Then I looked up and checked the canopy, which I could see clearly in the nearly full moon night: "Perfect, no Mae West, no line-overs, no blown panels, no streamer..." and it was then that I noticed it. "You have got to be kidding me," I remember thinking to myself, still in a light humorous way, "an orange and white panel parachute!" It was glowing like a Chinese lantern. I patted one of my survival vest pockets with the signal flares and jokingly considered lighting one up to help the Serbians spot me even more easily! Of course that's not what I did. In fact, I knew that despite the presence of a large number of air breathing and non-air breathing NATO assets out there, there could still be a chance that nobody was aware of what just happened. I felt it vitally important to make good two way contact with a friendly as fast as possible. I reached into my g-suit pocket and took out my personal Mini-Maglite flashlight, which was fitted with a red lens cap. I was familiar with the settings on the top of the survival radio but I wanted to be absolutely sure I had the correct one selected when I started transmitting. I had SAR frequencies, or I could go to 243.0, which was the guard frequency. I could also activate the emergency locator beacon. I knew where all the settings were but I wanted no uncertainty. Funny, I was already transitioning my thinking and frame of reference from "pilot-in-cozy-cockpit", to the attitude and actions of a high-speed special operations, special tactics covert and low-profile guy on the ground. So in order to prevent anyone seeing the tiny light from my flashlight, floating thousands of feet above the ground, I tucked my body around the light as best I could while I did a quick visual confirmation of the radio settings.
RFA - Was getting on the radio the right thing to do?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - At the time, officially, that was an anomaly. When I was repatriated and debriefed with the JPRA - Joint Personnel Recovery Agency team, they were surprised that I made radio contact while still under canopy because that's not how we were trained. We were adamantly not supposed to do anything other than take basic care of ourselves right after ejection. Maybe start to treat for shock or get a little orientation. But we should wait until we get on the ground, settle down, find an initial hold up site, treat oneself for shock and injuries, only then try to initiate radio contact. For this scenario, my reasoning was different, and I felt great physically and mentally with a very high state of situational awareness. JPRA asked me why my decision and actions, and here's why: First of all I had a basic radio with no secure voice and no over-the-horizon capability. I knew that the best chance to get two-way contact was at altitude. I also felt it very likely that I could be quickly captured after hitting the ground with no chance to get on the radio. I wanted to deny Yugoslavia the huge exploitation potential of having an alive-and-well F-117 pilot and our forces having no knowledge of my status. And overall, I sensed how crucial it was to get things going - to get the CSAR energized as fast as possible in order to have the best chance to deny the Serbians what I knew would be the ultimate prize in this whole episode: the F-117 pilot. So I started making my mayday calls, maintaining the best possible radio discipline. I realized how important it was to inhibit the adversary the ability to fix my position. There was no secure voice going on here so I assumed the Serbs were listening to everything, and I assumed the whole time they knew where every player was and what it was doing. I finally raised Frank 36, a KC-135 tanker refueling F-16s in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The information I passed to him was that my last known position in the aircraft was my point after target. So that gave them a rough idea of where I might be. Once I was satisfied I had made good two way contact, I tucked the radio away and got busy with many other things. All the while I was on the radio, though, I was orienting myself. I was coming down through layers of clouds. When I was out of the clouds I could see pieces of ground, so I tried to orient myself as best I could. I very quickly oriented myself with Polaris and north. As a backup I checked the magnetic compass which was in my survival vest pocket.
I estimate I broke through the bottom layer of clouds somewhere around 2,000 feet, giving me roughly two minutes remaining under canopy to better orient and make some initial plans and decisions. As soon as I was underneath the bottom layer of clouds I pulled the four-line jettison, giving me the ability to steer and some command over where I was drifting.
RFA - Were you able to discover where you were?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - The first thing I saw was a town about three and a half miles to the north. This was connected to another town about a mile and a half behind me by a two-lane hardball road, running roughly north-south. There was quite a bit of traffic on the road. I was drifting north/northeast, I estimated 15 to 20 knots. As far as the eye could see the terrain was open, flat sections of farm fields separated by sparse shrub lines or irrigation ditches; not ideal for cover and concealment. There was also a major four-lane highway perhaps a mile to the north of my position running northwest to southeast. I later found out the town just north was Ruma. I knew where I didn't want to land so with some aggressive steering I was able to crab into the wind and land successfully on an open plowed farm field some 50 yards west of the hardball road I had seen, next to what seemed at the time to be a T intersection that led off to the east. Although I landed softly, there was a stiff 15-knot wind so I was getting drug a little bit. On my back I dug my heels in and reached up to pop both canopy releases, but on better thought decided against it, as the parachute would probably blow across the road. So I held on to the left hand riser, popped the right side, let the canopy deflate, then popped the other one. Then I flipped over on my stomach and just lay there, motionless. I let about 45 seconds to a minute go by but nobody on the road stopped. I wasn't going to idle there in case someone had seen me come down and was at that moment driving into town to make a phone call. I needed to move, quickly.
Before I touched down I had picked out a spot just west of the road some 200-300 yards away, where I hoped to be able to use as an initial hold up site and keep my head down. It was an irrigation ditch of sorts. I got busy securing my landing area and first pulled in my parachute, then took off my helmet and harness as well as any "hardware" items that could catch some light and give my position away. I wanted to get away from that landing spot as fast as possible, and travel small and light. So I put all of this stuff in the bottom of a plowed furrow and then I put my dark green one-man life raft on top of that. I packed dirt around the edges and on top of the raft so that the wind wouldn't flip it over and expose everything. I was very cautious to minimize disturbing the top of the furrows. That would give away that there had been activity there, making it easier to spot from the road, particularly being illuminated by the near-full moon. As I moved towards my chosen initial hold up spot I was very careful to step only in the bottom of the furrows so that I wouldn't disturb the neatly groomed surface and give away my direction of travel. One of the first things I did in my hold up site was grab some of this moist dark Serbian soil and do a bit of expedient combat cammo to cover all the exposed skin and soften the glow of my face and neck. An hour later I took off my gloves to reapply "soil-cammo" to my wrists and hands. This is when I noticed that the back of my right hand was caked in blood. I shrugged it off.
RFA - That must have been a tough wait?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - The ambient temperature was just above freezing. It was a wet, bone-soaking cold, like what you find in New England. Luckily I dress to egress and I had on four layers of clothes, with the top layer being my winter flight jacket, as well as three pairs of socks - two thin cotton and one high-quality thin wool ski sock. I also had an extra set of socks in my pocket. I was fairly comfortable throughout the night. I was extremely well hydrated before ejecting and had brought along at least 12 extra 4-ounce flex packs of water besides the 12 normally placed in my survival kit by the life support professionals. Water is so vital, helping to reduce potential shock; it raises your levels of alertness and provides overall strength and endurance to the body and senses. Before that evening's brief I had eaten my customary large bowl of Grape Nut cereal, with dried cranberries. That provided me with long-term complex carbohydrate energy. Almost like a marathon runner carbo-loading before a race. I also had four power bars (Chocolate and Oatmeal Raisin) in my pocket. Even still, there were some rough moments throughout the night.
As soon as I was in my hole up site I made a quick inventory of all the equipment I had with me. I had a survival vest, my seat kit and a hit-and-run pack. The seat kit is kind of like a little backpack containing survival/evasion equipment. If you land and don't have time or the means to take much, you can sling the hit-and-run pack over your shoulder and take off. It has the most essential items of equipment you may need to survive and evade and is shaped almost like a banana pack.
There is some redundancy of equipment between the vest, seat kit and hit-and-run pack. At my landing site, without much deliberate thought, almost automatically, I threw the seat kit on my back and grabbed the hit-and-run pack. I had everything in my hole up site. I did my inventory by feel and was satisfied and confident that I was familiarized with what I had.
Within the first hour after I had landed, still holed up in the shallow irrigation ditch, I detected and began monitoring enemy search activity very close to where I was. They knew that they had shot down an aircraft and were at the wreckage site extremely quickly, probably within 15 minutes of the crash. It certainly dawned on them that they had shot down an F-117, the ultimate aircraft. The next obvious conclusion was that they would do whatever it took to capture the pilot. So they unleashed a giant manhunt - I later found out - involving Army VJ, police, and villagers in the area. I didn't realize it at the time, but much later through study and analysis, I guessed that I was somewhere between one and two miles from the crash site, which is pretty close. I believe I was well within the most heavily concentrated area of search. I also experienced a little bit of the receiving end of our own actions when I was in my hold up site. At first I didn't quite know what it was, but remembering the Air Tasking Order, I quickly realized it was the B-2s that were to bomb targets in the general Belgrade area after us. Although a safe distance away, the bombs hit close enough that the compression and shock waves that went through the air over me in my hole up site was significant - it got my attention. I later learned and appreciated what those guys did as they actually flexed some of the targets which they thought would be close to the rough area I may have been.
RFA - Were you successful in making further contact from your hole up site?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - All through the night, I was trying to stick as close as possible to my pre-planned EPA, or Evasion Plan of Action. Of course, war fighting is fluid, it's moment by moment, routinely demanding flexibility and improvisation. One dilemma for an evader is how to be as predictable as possible for rescue forces, and as unpredictable as possible for the adversary. As soon as I was relatively comfortable with my state of concealment, I took out my hand held GPS. Shortly before we deployed to Aviano, our squadron life support shop had bought, with our own squadron money, a series of basic and inexpensive hand held GPS sets. It came in extremely handy that night.
Before I turned it on, though, I made a rough guess of where I was. I had briefed extensively with our squadron Intel specialists, and familiarized myself with the area I'd be operating in before going into combat. I had a very good idea where I was. So I was facing north, and mentally visualized myself with my Intel folks in the squadron briefing room, standing in front of the Area of Responsibility - AOR - map. Before calling up the GPS, I guessed where I was in relationship to some predetermined references. Hunkered down, I couldn't raise enough satellites and had to expose myself somewhat to where I could hold out my arm and a portion of my body over the shallow curve of the ditch to get the best line of site with the horizon. I had my guess of my position and wanted to confirm it with what the GPS indicated, ensuring the machine was giving me accurate information. It was essential that I not pass bogus information to our rescue guys. The GPS data was right in the heart of the window of what I had rough-guessed! The first time I made voice contact on the ground was about one hour and twenty minutes into the event. I passed my position to one of our Command and Control assets. That was the first and only time I talked to him.
Still, and I didn't realize it then, even after my immediate contact under canopy and this initial contact on the ground, there was a great deal of confusion and uncertainty throughout the night, as to my location and authenticity.
RFA - So it was back to your hold out?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Yes, and anytime I was not checking in on the radio, taking "tactical peeks" to update my situational awareness of the objective area, or using the "restroom", I minimized physical activity as much as possible. About three and a half hours into the event I detected what seemed like search dog activity south of me, and shortly afterward I had a visitor. Fortunately, at that particular moment, I had my floppy hat on, I was cammoed up with moist, dark soil, and I wasn't moving. Also, there was a wind out of the south. I was facing north when I heard some kind of creature approaching me from behind. I reached down slowly and grabbed my survival knife. It was a sort of hunting size dog, maybe 50-80 lbs, walking along very deliberately and purposefully, seemingly looking for something. Suddenly, he stopped and looked VERY interested in exactly where I had been when I was working my GPS, perhaps 20 yards away, so I figured he had my scent. The moon was now low on the western horizon and I could see him clearly as he approached my hiding place, silhouetted against the illumination.
Again, fortunately, just prior to his arrival and approach, I had not been active and was motionless and silent, with the wind in my favor. I could see him but he had trouble spotting me. I was a dark object, masked against the dark shallow slope of the ditch, with my head below the horizon line. He looked around and his gaze swept across me a couple of times, but it never stopped on me. Finally he moved on and traveled south-southwest. I took several full breaths when he did and was grateful for no direct encounter, which would certainly have made some sort of commotion, compromising my position.
All along, I had thought that if it was my fate to be captured, I'd rather be found by police or Serbian military, rather than by villagers who would likely be less charitable during capture. During the few minutes of my dog visit, not only did I hope to not have to tangle with the dog, I also imagined, still in a light humorous way, what would happen to me if I harmed that dog and ended up captured by villagers who owned it! I had a 9 mm pistol with me but of course I never considered using it because of the noise. To this day I don't know if it was a military or police trained search dog, or perhaps a villager's dog sent out to try and alert on something.
RFA - While all this was going on, the CSAR assets were probably already on their way.
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Maybe two hours before pickup the moon had set and a dark mantle of blackness set in. To make matters worst, a thick overcast low weather deck rolled in and some pretty heavy rain started to fall. Of course, the extreme darkness and poor weather made everything more difficult for the CSAR Task Force. However, it certainly worked against the Serbs as well. Although it added a significantly large extra challenge for the CSAR Team, in the end, the darkness, thick clouds and rain were probably more of a help than a hindrance, providing some much needed cover and concealment.
The next time I talked to anybody after my initial contact on the ground, was a little over three hours into the event when the Sandy pilots arrived on scene (CSAR on-scene commander). I established and remained in radio contact with them for the whole rest of the event. Throughout the night there had been much uncertainty as to my authenticity. Was I really Vega-31 or was this some sort of Serbian spoofing and laying an ambush?
Throughout the entire evening numerous different sets of coordinates were produced from various sources indicating Vega-31's position. These were filtered down and approximately six actual sets of coordinates made their way throughout the evening to the Sandys and helicopters. Those guys were getting yanked around emotionally, hour after hour, as they were trying to prepare to infiltrate to get me out. Actually, they had begun to execute and push in country several times and were called off. So there was repeated authentication throughout the entire evening, and the Sandys were very skillful at managing that. Any aircrew member that can possibly be isolated behind enemy lines prepares some general and personal information about himself. This is kept closely-held and well guarded, to be used only in the highly unlikely probability of needing to someday covertly authenticate. Authentication that night was extremely effective and essential to the CSAR success.
So thirty minutes before pickup the Sandys authenticated me once again, because at that point they didn't know if they were going to proceed with the mission, due to many factors, including deception, as well as our own contribution to confusion and uncertainty. At that moment they asked of me the hardest thing I had to do that night: "Vega-31, is it alright to come in there?" As soon as I heard that I thought to myself: "Ahhh, don't ask me that! Don't make me take that decision!" Over a minute went by and I still couldn't answer. Finally, one of the Sandy pilots came back on the radio, and this time he sounded just like a mom: "Now Vega-31, if you don't answer us, we're going to have to come back and do this a little bit later." Another 20 seconds went by until I finally said: "Ok. Go for it. Let's do it!" The reason it was so gut wrenching to make that decision was that due to poor pre-Operation Allied Force CSAR information sharing, and no secure voice capability during the CSAR, I had essentially no true idea of the nature of who and what capability would be attempting to come in; also, due to being at ground level with no night vision capability, other than what God gave me, and short effective hearing range, I had limited awareness of precisely the extent and nature of surrounding enemy activity, or their capabilities. There were search forces within several hundred yards of me, and had been for most of the night. I could not confidently assess the risk of bringing those guys into what could develop into a very harmful situation for them. I just could not answer them. The reason I ultimately gave the go-ahead was that I felt fully confident my situational awareness was high enough that if capture was imminent, I'd be able to call off the CSAR and take care of a few essentials that I didn't want compromised. Even though the Sandy traditionally would have solid awareness of the objective area and be the one to make the continuous assessments and decisions, I still had rehearsed, throughout the night, a radio call I'd use, as well as the actions I'd take, for calling it all off. It was unexpected to be asked if it was ok to execute. When they were fifteen minutes out the Sandys authenticated me again, reaffirmed if OK to come in, and told me to prepare my infrared strobe - my only covert signaling device. And again, I had a tough time answering.
It wasn't until this point that I first started to think; "You know, they may actually try something tonight." Up until then, although I never gave up hope or backed off my fierce determination, I was also a realist and did not expect a rescue attempt to be tried that night, if at all. I thought; "These guys would be out of their minds to try and come in where I am." I was mentally and emotionally well prepared for capture. Those CSAR professionals are simply astonishing. Ten minutes after this authentication I started hearing a helicopter approach from the west - it wasn't until later that I realized there was more than one involved in the rescue attempt, in fact there were two MH-53s and one MH-60. I was prepared to try to get them to land on the Western field because that would have been a little farther from the hardball road.
The Sandys had already established an authentication code that would alert me to activate my strobe. I was busy tracking the helicopter sound starting to go a bit towards the north of my position when I heard the signal to activate the strobe, so I came out of my hole up site just enough to hold it slightly off the dirt. I remained low profile - my body was a little exposed, yet I thought that no matter how imminent the rescue seemed, I still needed to maintain as low a "signature" as possible as this was truly the most dangerous and risky moment of all, and things could instantly go bad again.
I activated the strobe, all while monitoring the radio, with time clicking by and no word from anyone. Then the Sandy came up and said: "We're not getting your strobe." When I heard that call I slid back down into the best hiding position possible, cautiously examined my strobe and determined it was not working. I had no backup covert device. "So now what", I thought to myself. I made a radio call that my strobe was inoperative then Sandy came up and said: "Well, can you see the helicopters? Can you give them a vector?" They were North of me by now so I radioed back: "Yeah, I think you guys are north of me a couple of miles, come right, come south." And it was then that I noticed that there was other airborne activity in the area. With a search light on! I visually saw the Serbian airborne search activity more or less in the same area where I was tracking the CSAR helicopter. That threw me off for a moment and it wasn't until I heard the sound of the helicopters moving away from where the slow-moving airborne spotlight was that I knew for certain the light was not from a friendly. I heard Sandy on the radio once again; "Vega-31, give us a pen gun flare." This device was developed in the Vietnam era to penetrate foliage. It shoots up 800 to 1200 ft and I hadn't prepared the one I had in my evasion kit, but my hand was on it in two seconds. It was extremely well packed and while I started to unwrap the packaging two thoughts came to mind....first, I wasn't comfortable firing a flare 1,000 ft up in the air because that was definitely going to compromise my position, and it would take me too long to prepare this item. I was getting very uncomfortable with the length of time the rescue guys were exposed in the objective area. I decided; "This needs to happen NOW, or they need to go away and try again another time."
The co-pilot of the lead MH-53 must have had the same thoughts because right then he came up on the radio and said: "Hey Vega-31, if we're this close, just go overt." I replied: "How 'bout a regular flare." I had that flare out and prepped in about 4 seconds. I had two in my lower left survival vest pocket. These are the standard ones, with a day end and a night end. As I was prepping the flare, I was considering which side to use. The day end is smoke, the night end is a flame, yet with the day end, there's a little flame as the smoke burns which could be picked up by the night vision devices those guys likely had on.
To be certain there would be no further delay, and so that they would acquire the signal without having to search, I opted for the night side and just popped that sucker. It probably lit up half of Serbia! Actually, I didn't do the Statue of Liberty thing. I stayed at ground level with my body half protected by the sloping side of the embankment right where it was coming up to the flat part of the farm field. I held the flare just above the dirt and let it burn for about two seconds and then I snuffed it out in the soil.
The helicopters instantly saw the flare and had eyes on me. They made an immediate radio call for me to "put out the flare" because in that darkness it was "blooming" their night vision devices, making it harder to see the survivor. I didn't receive that radio call because I was using the radio's earpiece, which kept popping out with any head or arm movement. In fact, that was another of the many lessons learned, to fashion some sort of means to keep it in place. I wished I had a roll of duct tape - I would have strapped it to my head. Fortunately, I killed the flare quickly on my own anyway. They were probably a mile away from me when they saw the flare. At that moment they determined the MH-60 would try to make a quick grab and go. They were monitoring the considerable amount of Serbian search activity right there in the objective area, which was positioned nearly on top of me, and were still not 100% I was the real Vega-31. I later found out that several gun sights were fixed at the center of my chest during pickup, and I don't know if I really needed that information, after all, one of those guns fires 4,000 rounds a minute!
RFA - This whole thing was coming to an end.
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - Normally, even helicopters like to set up an approach, but that crew decided: "We just don't have time." God Bless 'em! Their flying skills and nerve are just extraordinary. They auto-rotated into this black hole of nothing. In a situation like that there is no depth perception, there is no horizon, and they must have had an extremely difficult time even judging distance and closure rate to the ground. Without hesitation, the MH-60 peeled off and landed pretty much where I hoped they would. The helicopter came down just to the west of me, about a rotor arc away. It was so dark I couldn't see them until they settled and the very top of the helicopter became barely illuminated by static electricity generated from dust hitting the rotors.
The Pararescuemen (PJs) came out while I was waiting in a low crouch, non-threatening position. I saw two non-distinct shapes appear out of this blackness, approaching from my left. I didn't see these guys until they were maybe 10 feet away. And they looked like aliens with their helmets and night vision devices and weapons. The PJ team leader came up to me, grabbed me in the upper left arm and pulls me in to him. I didn't know what he was doing at first, but I could feel his breath on my face. He was doing a visual identification of my profile. That was the final authentication. Finally they were absolutely certain it was Vega-31 and not a trap.
He yelled to me: "How're you feeling Sir?" and I yelled back: "Great! Let's get out of here!" He gave me a tug and said: "Your PJs are here to take you home." I followed them to the chopper, I suppose I was actually being escorted and they just made me feel like I was still in control! We jumped in and off we went. From eyes on the survivor, to auto-rotate into the black hole, PJ's out and all of us back in and flying, it took them 90 seconds. Forty-five seconds on the ground. Extremely fast, remarkably professional. From the time I pulled my ejection handles to five minutes out of the base in Bosnia, which is where the CSAR guys brought me after exfiltration, almost eight hours had elapsed. From a CSAR perspective, it was a very long time.
RFA - Were you injured in any way?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - I had some pretty severe lacerations to the back of my hand as well as a wicked contusion to my right leg. I also had some bruising to the back of my legs and butt, probably complements of the ejection seat, as well as some pronounced bruising to the muscles around my eyes, which the flight doctor thought might have been from the severe negative G's. All of these occurred some time during the shoot down or ejection. Other than the bloody hand already described, I didn't realize any of this until the flight doc gave me a once-over during my flight back to Aviano. It's amazing I didn't sustain any serious debilitating injuries.
RFA - Were lessons learned from this operation?
Lt. Col. Dale Zelko - There were numerous lessons learned. Too many to adequately discuss today, however, I can give you a sampler taste. As I mentioned earlier, the Vega-31 event was a wake-up call blessing for everyone involved in Operation Allied Force.
Overall communications were enormously frustrating for everyone, from very limited or no SATCOM capability, to almost non-existent secure voice capability. We had never rehearsed a CSAR Task Force Operation of that nature before. It was put together and executed ad hoc and on the fly. From the evader point of view, there was also a great deal learned. During my debrief with JPRA, they asked me what three things I would have liked to have had. Without hesitation I responded: "a STU-III phone, a night vision device, and a one-day shopping spree at LL Bean!" The idea of the STU-III comment is to have over-the-horizon, secure voice, giving the evader total situational awareness of what the CSAR was doing and what was the plan. The night vision device would have enhanced my situational awareness of the objective area. And the LL Bean remark was to emphasize that there is a lot of fantastic survival equipment out there in the civilian market. All these things would have greatly assisted me to be the best survivor/evader possible. The survivor/evader can be a vitally important part of the CSAR Team and can make tremendously valuable contribution, having enormous impact on the success, or failure, of the CSAR.
Another lesson learned: Training and Preparation. To me, this is all about Motivation and Determination. In this scenario there was not the luxury of time, there was no time to think about it or consider it, no time to reference the owner's manual. There was no time for uncertainty about what to do and how to do it. This event started very suddenly, unexpectedly (that an F-117 would go down), and violently - and for the next near 8 hours, until the helicopters were relatively safe (5 minutes out from the base in Bosnia), there was no time for hesitation, there was no time to flinch!
The last time I went through a SERE - Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape - course, was the summer of 1978, as a cadet at the U. S. Air Force Academy. I had not had any refresher Combat Survival Training in all those years. That has changed now. Dramatically. Now, every unit, every organization is very good at having a formal, structured Combat Survival refresher training at least every two years for all aircrew members who could possibly be isolated behind enemy lines.
The initial SERE training and periodic Life Support and Intel refresher cannot provide the step by step solutions to every survival and evasion and CSAR situation - there are too many possibilities, too many combinations. But, if the training and preparation is paid attention to and taken seriously (the motivation part), it provides a tremendous foundation of skills, considerations and equipment familiarity. It gives an experience of how to think and what to do.
You know, technology and sophistication are so important and we should always continue to develop new and better equipment and capabilities. Yet, isn't it amazing that we pulled that CSAR off with a walkie-talkie, a road flare, and a hundred dollar GPS!
Again, certainly technology and sophistication are very important. But, what about the Human - the Operator? This Combat Search and Rescue was successful because of: training and preparation - individual training and preparation that was taken seriously and paid attention to; because of trust and faith and confidence in fellow team member; because of fierce determination and drive, unfaltering discipline, and extraordinary situational awareness and airmanship. This Combat Search and Rescue was successful because in spite of the enormous risk and confusions and danger and complexity and uncertainty and hostility, there was: calm, and presence of mind; there was sound and sensible moment by moment decision making, improvisation, innovation, and there was a whole lot of GUTS!
An integrated and well rehearsed Search and Rescue capability is such an important part of our war fighting capability and day to day peacetime service.
It has been such a pleasure sharing and visiting with all these wonderful professionals in Brazil. I've so enjoyed getting to know you some. Keep it light, stay loose, and God bless everyone.


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