Today in History – May 1, 1960 – Pilot Francis Gary Powers is shot down over Russia

1 May 1960. Pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down by an S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk.  Powers was flying the U-2 spy plane which flew espionage missions at altitudes of 70,000 feet (21 km), supposedly above the reach of Soviet air defenses.

As Powers flew near Kosulino in the Ural Region, three S-75 Dvinas were launched at his U-2, with the first one hitting the aircraft. “What was left of the plane began spinning, only upside down, the nose pointing upward toward the sky, the tail down toward the ground.” Powers was unable to activate the plane’s self-destruct mechanism before he was thrown out of the plane after releasing the canopy and his seat belt. While descending under his parachute, Powers had time to scatter his escape map and rid himself of part of his suicide device, a silver dollar coin suspended around his neck containing a poison-laced injection pin, though he kept the poison pin. “Yet I was still hopeful of escape.” He hit the ground hard, was immediately captured, and taken to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.

On August 19, 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage. His sentence was 10 years’ confinement, three of which were to be in a prison, with the remainder in a labor camp. The US Embassy stated that he “had acted in accordance with the instructions given to him and would receive his full salary while imprisoned”.

He was held in Vladimir Central Prison, in building number 2 from September 9, 1960, until February 8, 1962. On February 10, 1962, Powers was exchanged, along with U.S. student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicized spy swap. They were exchanged for Soviet KGB Colonel William Fisher, known as “Rudolf Abel”, who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage. Powers believed his father had been instrumental in the swap idea. When released, Powers’s total time in captivity was 1 year, 9 months, and 10 days.

Powers was met with a cold reception when he returned to the U.S. Many people felt he should have taken his suicide pill and destroyed the aircraft and its camera. During his substantial debriefing, Senators Senator Saltonstall, Senator Bush, and Senator Goldwater all lent their support to his actions.

Powers worked for Lockheed as a test pilot from 1962 to 1970, though the CIA paid his salary.

On August 1, 1977, Powers was piloting a helicopter for KNBC Channel 4 over West Los Angeles on August 1, 1977, when the aircraft crashed, killing him and his cameraman George Spears. The Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed short of its intended landing site.

The records of Francis Gary Powers capture and the events preceding are still classified by the NSA. In 2010, CIA documents were released indicating that U.S. officials did not believe Powers’s account of the incident at the time, because it was contradicted by a classified National Security Agency (NSA) report which alleged that the U-2 had descended from 65,000 to 34,000 feet (20 to 10 km) before changing course and disappearing from radar.

Bridge of Spies, the 2015 movie, tells the story of James B. Donovan, the lawyer who worked to facilitate the release of Powers.

source: Wikipedia


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