During the early to mid-1990s, Yugoslavia,  a multiethnic state of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims was disintegrating and bloody conflict breaking out.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was the scene of some of the worst fighting, where nearly 100,000 people were killed, many of them victims of ethnic cleansing. The United States and NATO got involved in 1992, enforcing a no-fly zone. In 1995 a Serbian antiaircraft missile destroyed an F-16 piloted by USAF Captain Scott O’Grady. O’Grady would escape and evade for nearly a week until rescued by Marine Corps ground troops on June 8th. 

O’Grady was born in New York City in October 1965. O’Grady became interested in flying at an early age. He joined the Civil Air Patrol and got his pilot’s license while just a teenager.

He attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, joined the ROTC, and set his goal to be an Air Force fighter pilot. Graduating at the top of his class in the Air Force, he was given the task of learning the F-16. He flew missions off the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in South Korea. Then stationed in Germany, O’Grady and his squadron would patrol the “No-Fly Zones” over Iraq. 

Later, O’Grady was transferred to Aviano, Italy. At the time, NATO flyers were tasked with supporting NATO ground troops in Bosnia. In 1994, O’Grady was involved with the first NATO air combat mission. On that day, his wingman, Captain Robert Wright, shot down three Serbian aircraft that had struck targets.

More than a year later, on June 2, 1995, once again, O’Grady and Wright were flying over Bosnia when disaster struck. The pilots were aware of fixed antiaircraft sites on the ground, but a mobile SA-6 antiaircraft site, which had been seen by U-2 surveillance aircraft, was not relayed to the pilots. 

The Serbs fired their missiles when the planes were nearly overhead but didn’t turn on their missile tracking radars until the missiles were nearly on the two targets to delay the time the F-16s had to react. The first missile exploded right between the two aircraft. The second SA-6 missile hit O’Grady’s F-16 right behind the cockpit. 

Wright saw the explosion and saw O’Grady’s F-16 break in two, but didn’t see a parachute. Yet, O’Grady had managed to eject and deploy his parachute. Due to the altitude, it would take him nearly 25 minutes to reach the ground. Serbian troops were immediately dispatched to find him.