On May 4, 1999, the Commander of the 204th Fighter Aviation Regiment took off to intercept a NATO aircraft and was killed over Valjevo, his hometown.

That May 4, 1999, in the heat of the NATO aggression, Valjevo found itself under intense attacks by enemy aircraft. Even though other colleagues were on call, Lieutenant Colonel-pilot Milenko Pavlović, Commander of the 204th Fighter Aviation Regiment, decided to personally get into the “MiG-29” cockpit and take off to intercept the aggressor, whose aircraft were flying just over his hometown.

According to the data from the book “Air War Over Serbia in 1999” (orig. Vazdušni rat nad Srbijom 1999) by historian Bojan Dimitrijević and General Jovica Draganić, Pavlović took off from the Batajnica Air Field at 12:37 o’clock in the afternoon. Members of the Yugoslav Army’s Air Force and Air Defense in the Srem plain were surprised to see a Yugoslav “MiG-29” flying over them in low flight, scurrying towards the clouds. He soon found himself near Valjevo at an altitude of 3,000 meters.

There is no precise information on what happened over the following several minutes, but author Živan Grujičić provided a good description of that brief period of time in his book “Life and Death of Milenko Pavlović, Colonel-pilot” (orig. Život i smrt Milenka Pavlovića, pilota-pukovnika”).

“Suddenly, the NATO aggressor squadron went into an insane whirlwind, all 16 aircraft retreated. Sixteen super aircraft retreated in front of one of ours, fleeing in vertical ascension from the knight in the “MiG-29”. One Serbian pilot chased off 16 cowardly NATO pilots in front of him, just like when one pigeon runs off 16 hawks, which is an unrivaled miracle and worthy of becoming an epic… The whirlwind of numerous aircraft high above went on for about ten minutes, seems like it wasn’t long, but indeed too long for one fighter versus sixteen. And then, suddenly there was a deafening silence, followed by a muffled explosion in the sky under the clouds,” detailed Grujičić.

This most likely occurred around 12:47 o’clock, when Lieutenant Colonel Pavlović’s radio connection was lost. The enemy aircraft struck him from a distance, presumably the missile had been fired all the way from the airspace of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Citizens of Valjevo exuberantly watched the burning aircraft crash to the ground, convinced that they were looking at a NATO aircraft, only to be overcome with sadness mere hours later when they found out that a Serbian pilot had been killed in an attempt to save the lives of citizens who would have been struck by NATO bombs and missiles.

“With bravery and audacity, defending his sky and ours, the Commander gave his life in the line of duty, thus entering the ranks of legendary Serbian heroes and commanders,” said General Spasoje Smiljanić, wartime commander of Yugoslav Air Force and Air Defence, in his book “NATO Aggression — Air Force and Air Defence in the Defense of the Homeland” (orig. “Agresija NATO-a — RV i PVO u odbrani otadžbine”).

On engaging the “MiG-29” during the NATO aggression, he wrote: “Fighter aircraft “MiG-29” have been deployed in nine flights (seven individual and two paired) on the mission to intercept enemy aircraft in the airspace over the territory of FR Yugoslavia. Our pilots did not have adequate conditions and opportunities to engage enemy aircraft in any of the nine flights.”

“The enemy would retreat, staying out of range of our aircraft. Shooting an aircraft down is certainly the greatest success for anti-aircraft defense, including fighter jets. However, deterring the aggressor from their original objective is also a form of success. The result may be abstract, as we can only guess at what would have happened and who would have been killed in an attack that was interrupted because anti-aircraft defense and fighter jets engaged.”

“The effectiveness of the “MiG-29” aircraft deployed in combat activities against over 70 NATO fighter aircraft that were carrying out ground attacks could not have been higher. More than material effectiveness — shooting down enemy aircraft — our fighter jets played a significant role in ‘firing up’ the combat morale among the members of defense forces and in ‘disrupting’ the combat order of enemy assault aircraft in our airspace in the beginning phases of the war. It is a confirmed fact that NATO fighter jets evaded close combat with ours, and assault groups would give up on carrying out their objective if the Yugoslav Army fighter jets were nearby,” said General Smiljanić.

Milenko Pavlović (1959-1999), born in Gornje Crniljevo near Osečina, was posthumously promoted to the rank of Colonel and awarded the Order of Courage and the Order of Merit in the first degree in the field of defense and security. The Batajnica Military Air Field was recently renamed “Colonel-pilot Milenko Pavlović”.

Death of Zoran Radosavljević and Života Đurić

During the NATO aggression, the Yugoslav Army lost three pilots in the line of duty. Lieutenant Colonel Života Đurić, Commander of the 241st Fighter-Bomber Squadron of the 98th Fighter-Bomber Regiment, was killed on May 25, 1999 during the attack on Kosovo Liberation Army positions near the village of Likovac in Kosovo and Metohija. Only a day later, Major Zoran Radosavljević was killed in the cockpit of a “MiG-29” during an enemy aircraft intercept, crashing his aircraft in the area of Bijeljina.