The last tense minutes of a fighter pilot about to eject from an F-16 hit by enemy fire over Serbia

The following video and audio were recorded by the U.S. Air Force F-16CG #88-0550 belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano airbase, Italy, which was shot down during a combat mission over Serbia during Allied Force.

The F-16, callsign “Hammer 34” was egressing from the target area located near Novi Sad, at 02.00 AM LT on May 2, 1999, when a Serbian surface-to-air missile exploded close to the plane, causing heavy damage to its engine.

Pilot Lt. Col. David Goldfein was eventually able to eject safely from the plane that lost the engine thrust and began to glide towards the ground and was later rescued by a Combat SAR team (on two MH-53J Pave Low and a MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter) who picked him up before dawn. But this video will let you hear and feel those last few minutes of a fighter pilot on a damaged plane who knows is about to eject behind the enemy lines.

Another detail worth noticing is that the Hammer flight, made of 4 F-16s was talking interplane on a low VHF frequency, 123.450 MHz that is commonly used by General Aviation planes (because it’s easy to remember  1-2-3-4-5), and did not use encrypted comms, something that made their conversation easily intercepted by the Serbians (as occurred also more than a decade later in Libya proving that COMSEC doesn’t imply the use of Have Quick radios in war).

17 years after the incident (and three years after this article was originally written), in 2016, David Goldfein was appointed the 21st chief of staff of the Air Force. He retired in 2020 as a four star general.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.