On 2 May 1999, Pilot Lt. Col. David Goldfein’s F-16 fighter jets was shot down over western Serbia by an S-125 surface-to-air missile fired by the 3rd Battery of the 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade of the Yugoslav Air Force.
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hardy, a pararescueman, and his fellow airmen were on alert in Bosnia
when they got the call: An F-16 had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Serbia and an Air Force pilot was trapped behind enemy lines Hardy and the rest of his team immediately jumped into action
Related Link: Watch Video of Last minutes of USAF F-16 callsign “Hammer 34” shot down by Serbian Air defense 20 year ago
The three-helicopter team dodged two SA-6 and one SA-9 surface-to-air missiles as they crossed the border, and had to evade 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft fire throughout the flight
The team got to where they thought then-Lt. Col. Goldfein was and orbited the site for a few minutes — all while dodging more fire — before getting the updated coordinates and moving to his actual location
The MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter on which Hardy was riding was the first to spy the downed pilot.
They radioed Goldfein and used a classified code to authenticate it was actually him, before breaking formation and landing in a clearing.
Hardy, then-Senior Airman Ron Ellis, also a pararescueman, and then-Staff Sgt. Andy Kubik, a combat controller, jumped out and ran toward Goldfein as he emerged from the woodline where he has taken cover.
Kubik and Ellis provided security as Hardy went forward and got Goldfein. They ran back to the helicopter under heavy fire from the Serbians.
“I could feel the rounds impacting the ground around us,” Hardy said.
As bullets whizzed by them — they later found five bullet holes in the helicopter’s fuselage — they got Goldfein in the helicopter. Because they were wearing body armour and Goldfein was not, they jumped on top to shield him.
They called for the pilot — then-Maj. Thomas Kunkel, who is now a colonel and head of the 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia — to take off, and the team headed back to Bosnia.
The rescue took less than a minute, Hardy said. Despite the heavy gunfire, Goldfein suffered no injuries in the rescue, aside from a minor injury to his hand when his plane was hit and he ejected.
Few words were exchanged that day, even after the helicopter took off since the rescuers were scanning for threats and evading more anti-aircraft artillery.
After they landed back in Bosnia, the crews from the other two helicopters came over and shook Goldfein’s hand, Hardy said. Goldfein said, “Thank you,” and then was whisked away in a C-130 to Aviano Air Base in Italy.
“We never know when some young airman is going to risk everything to come to pull us out,” Goldfein told the El Paso Times in 2007.
In a 2010 Air Force release, Goldfein said the unit saves the last few drinks of each bottle until he comes to bring a new one, at which point they all polish off the old bottle off together.