The Death of Mirko Vukušić, Pilot and Homeland War Hero

In the morning hours of 2 December 1991, heroes of the Croatian skies and the Homeland War, pilots Marko Živković and Mirko Vukušić and paratroopers Ante Plazibat and Rade Griva took off on their final flight. Their Antonov An-2 agricultural aircraft adapted for combat purposes was shot down by anti-aircraft guns of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) at 6:10 AM in the skies above Otok near the town of Vinkovci in eastern Croatia.

Mirko Vukušić was born on 17 November 1959 in Vinkovci to parents Tonko and Adelheide. He finished elementary school in his hometown and as a boy showed an interest in flying. Vukušić’s favourite pastime was making aircraft, gliders and rockets.

Vukušić’s parents did not support his desire to become a pilot and were relieved when he was not accepted to an aviation high school program in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. He had a talent for mathematics and instead enrolled in a technical high school in Vinkovci. However, his love for flying was too great and upon completion of his first year in Vinkovci, Vukušić re-applied for the aviation program and was accepted. After finishing high school, he enrolled in the military academy, spent two years in Zadar and two more in Pula where he graduated with the “Tito’s cadet” designation awarded to the best cadet in the class.

Vukušić confided to his brother Damir that his love of flying was the only reason he stayed in the army. He spoke of his time as a cadet in a negative context because “there was much support for the communist partisans and Serbian self-aggrandizement of everything they had allegedly achieved during the Second World War.” After graduating from the academy, Vukušić was served in Bihać where he became a military pilot in the 125th Fighter Squadron. He often came into conflict with his superiors which was deepened by the democratic changes that swept across Yugoslavia in 1990. General Ljubomir Bajić encouraged him to join the League of Communists – Movement for Yugoslavia political party and a verbal clash ensued in which he called Bajić a “Stalinist”.

Vukušić was transferred to the transport squadron at Pleso near Zagreb where he learned to fly the Antonov An-26 transport aircraft. Vukušić is remembered as an introverted and calm person who loved running, reading and chess. He began studying informatics and English in Varaždin and when it was obvious that war was inevitable, Vukušić was loyal to Croatia but remained in the YPA to collect intelligence from the enemy.

As he was under constant surveillance, Vukušić took advantage of a roadblock on the way to work to desert the YPA and join the Croatian Army. He initially toured the military positions in his small Yugo automobile as an air defense instructor and then joined the newly established Independent Air Squadron in the Osijek Operational Zone.

The unit was founded by his friend Marko Živković, also a military pilot who deserted from the Yugoslav military. In addition to using agricultural planes to break through enemy airspace and drop medical aid into Vukovar, the two pilots had combat flights in which dropped so-called boiler bombs on enemy positions. The combat actions of the Osijek squadron also had important moral, psychological and even material effects as the YPA soon began to respect the unexpected danger from the air that could not be stopped despite its technical superiority.

This prompted the deployment to the battlefront of a missile regiment from Serbia armed with the most advanced technology. One of their rockets proved fatal for Mirko Vukušić, Marko Živković, Ante Plazibat and Rada Griva and after their deaths, the platoon no longer performed combat flights.

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