Two jets crash in Kosovo campaign – 2 NATO warplanes down in Kosovo operation

May 2, 1999 – While three American servicemen held for a month in Yugoslavia made their way to freedom in Germany on Sunday, NATO reported that it had lost two U.S. aircraft in its Kosovo air campaign. An F-16 crashed about 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of the Serbian town of Kozluk early Sunday, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said. The plane was returning from a combat mission in Yugoslavia.

F-16 Wreckage
Serbian Television says these pictures are from a NATO F-16 fighter jet

„The pilot ejected at around 2:20 a.m. (1200 GMT) this morning and he was rescued by NATO forces two hours later,“ Shea said. „He is safely back at his operating base, where he is receiving medical attention and being debriefed on the incident.“

Serbian air defense officials said they shot down the F-16, but NATO military spokesman Col. Konrad Freytag said the jet crashed after experiencing engine failure. He said the cause of the engine failure was unknown.

The second lost plane was a Harrier jump jet, which crashed into the Adriatic Sea while returning to the amphibious assault carrier USS Kearsarge from a training mission. Its pilot was also rescued, Shea said.

Previously, NATO lost an F-117 stealth fighter, which went down in Serbia on March 27; and an Apache helicopter, which crashed while training in Albania last month. Four pilotless „drones“ have also been lost.

NATO: No end to bombing with Milosevic concessions

Yugoslavia released the three Americans, captured along the Macedonian border March 31, to U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson early Sunday. They crossed the Yugoslav border into Croatia on Sunday, and were scheduled to fly to Ramstein Air Base in Germany later in the day.

Jackson, who persuaded Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to release the men, called on NATO to return the gesture, diplomatically or otherwise. NATO, however, said the bombing would campaign would not stop.

„We are obviously very pleased that the three U.S. servicemen have been released,“ Shea said. „As far as our operations are concerned, we are going to continue, because what President Milosevic has not done in releasing those three U.S. servicemen is to say that he is also going to meet the conditions of the international community.“

NATO launched the bombing campaign March 24 when Milosevic rejected a plan to bring peace between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s Kosovo province.

Jackson is reportedly carrying a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton from Milosevic outlining proposals to end the crisis. Details of the letter were not available.

Meanwhile, Russia’s envoy to the Balkans, Viktor Chernomyrdin, is headed to Washington for a meeting with Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on Monday, the White House announced. Chernomyrdin will deliver another letter on the Yugoslav crisis, this one from Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

NATO bomb hits bus on bridge

NATO also admitted early Sunday that one of its attacks hit a civilian bus crossing a bridge near Luzane, north of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. NATO says the bridge was „used extensively by the Serb armed forces.“

At least 34 people died in the attack, according to Serb news reports and witnesses.

„The pilot released the weapon and only after he released the weapon did the bus come on the bridge,“ Shea said. „We regret that obviously, it’s a tragic accident, but we will continue to do everything we can to try and avoid those kinds of incidents. We can’t eliminate them altogether, but we do not target civilians.“

The bus was sliced in half by the attack and caught fire. Half of it remained on the bridge, while the other half plunged 13 meters (40 feet) over the edge. The bridge remained standing.

Reporters brought to the scene said they saw bodies and body parts strewn around the scene.