A NATO Pilot Meets The Serbian Commander Who Shot Him Down

Jul 19, 2013

Photo: Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
Credit U.S. Department of Defense

Dale Zelko and Zoltan Dani had no reason to ever meet. But in 1999, Zelko, a NATO pilot, was flying an F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter over Serbia. And Dani, a colonel with the Yugoslav Army, shot down Zelko’s stealth bomber, becoming a national hero for defending his country.

That was their first meeting. As Zelko parachuted to the ground, he thought about the man who'd hit him.

"I imagined standing next to the Serbian surface-to-air missile officer who shot me down," Zelko says. "I imagined standing next to him at a café, and I imagined saying to him, 'Really, really, really nice shot, but you're not going to get me.'"

After the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, Zelko retired with his wife and family to New Hampshire, and Dani opened a bakery and raised his family in the small town of Skorenovac. Years later, a Serbian film director brought the two together and made a documentary, "The Second Meeting."

In this story, host Dick Gordon speaks with Zelko and Dani about the first time they crossed paths, the moment they met again, and the bond their families have developed since.

Hear it at The Story. Also in this show: Lindsay Morgan Lokhart, a designer in the Halo video game series, created a strong female character and it was turned into a damsel in distress; and Mike Mika, a game developer, stayed up one night hacking Donkey Kong so his daughter could play a girl saving Mario.

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