Here’s the story of Francis Gary Powers, American pilot who was shot down over the skies of Russia on May 1st, 1960, accused of espionage and ended up spending many months in Soviet prison.
The year is 1955, Dwight D. Eisenhower is the President and Nikita S. Khrushchev is the Premier. The nuclear war paranoia is at it’s peak and each side tries to learn each other’s secrets by conducting intelligence (as in “sending a lot of spies”) and counter-intelligence (as in “catching some spies”) operations in order to gain an upper hand. Just some time ago Soviet Union’s request to join NATO was rejected, but so was Eisenhower’s proposal to allow surveillance overflights.
Each side picks their own way to get the information they need. The Soviets saturate Western countries with spies of all kinds. Americans rely on technology, sending reconnaissance flights as close to the Soviet borders as they dare. Once in while a plane crosses the border. More often than not it gets shot down.
May 1st, 1955
May Day military parade at the Red Square in Moscow. Long-range strategic bombers are passing overhead, showing off Soviet military might. Western observers are awestruck – they assume that the bombers are already in mass production (a bit of a Soviet bluff here) and they have little to counter those bombers with and no information about their capabilities. The Iron Curtain is closed shut and the only information Americans have is based on the old German maps. With the memory of Pearl Harbor still fresh in his mind, the CIA director reaches for his rolodex and makes a call to the head of Lockheed “Skunk Works” department… Exactly 3 months later the first “spy in the sky” plane code-named “Dragon Lady” makes it’s maiden flight.
The first test pilots had serious trouble trying to land the spy plane without killing themselves. Rumor has it that one pilot ignored the chief engineer’s instructions and landed the plane his own way. When the engineer started barking at him, the pilot has showed him the finger. The engineer, now REALLY angry, yelled “….You too!”. Soon enough the plane was designated “U-2” with “U” supposedly meaning “Utility”.
May 14th, 1955
Warsaw Pact, the “Treaty of Friendship” gets established as a response to re-militarization of West Germany and it’s integration into NATO. As a result, East Germany’s request for re-arming gets a solid “Da” from Moscow. The Berlin wall is not up yet, but the city is already divided and tanks can be seen on both banks of Spree river.
August 29, 1955
British Wing Commander Walter F. Gibb sets an international record for altitude, exceeding 65,889 feet (20km). The U-2 pilots are already beating this record by more than 5,000 feet, but there’s a catch. They can’t tell anyone about it.
May 13, 1956
Francis Gary Powers gets an offer he does not want to refuse. The only son of a coal miner from Virginia, he had his first plane ride at the age 14 and he “left his heart up there”. Now he’s a hotshot US Air Force pilot, but he has never seen any real action and he’s ready for an adventure. After learning that he will be flying a super-secret spy plane for the CIA, he signs an 18-month contract without a second thought. He has just became a civilian with a whopping salary of $30,000 a year. Shortly thereafter he arrives to a U-2 training facility in Watertown Nevada, a spot in the desert accessible only by air. Some time later this place will be known as “Area 51″
From Powers’s memoirs: “During our (initial) meetings I had several times referred to the Central Intelligence Agency as the “CIA”. Each time, (agent) Collins had winced slightly. When he or the other men referred to it, it was always “the government,” or, most often, “the agency.” Almost automatically, I fell into the same habit. I was learning. Thus, I suppose, spies are made.”
July 4th, 1956
“Dragon Lady” penetrates the Iron Curtain for the first time, flying over Eastern Europe, Moscow, St. Petersburg and most of the Baltics, taking pictures of the Soviet Union’s strongest defense installations in the area. Despite U-2’s radar jamming capabilities or maybe because of them, Soviet radars are able to detect an object flying high over their territory, but they are completely unprepared. By the time Soviet MIGs are in the air, the spy plane is long gone.
July 6th, 1956
A spy at the NATO airbase in Norway informs the Soviets that another spy plane flight is underway. Two MIGs scramble only to detect each other, missing the U-2 completely. The Soviets are able to detect something flying over their territory, all right. They just can’t do anything about it. That something is just flying way too high.
July 9th, 1956
Another U-2 plane crosses Soviet border, near Baltics again. MIG-19s from the Soviet airbase in Latvia scramble, trying to exceed their maximum ceiling of 60,000 feet (18km) by performing zoom climb maneuvers. None of the them succeeds and one runs out of fuel attempting an emergency landing in Lithuania, destroying a flock of sheep and the pilot’s spine in the process.
At this point the Soviets are so pissed off that Khrushchev declares that any pilot who shoots down a spy plane will be instantly given a Hero of the Soviet Union medal and “everything he wants”
. The Soviet military will spend the next 4 years getting ready. The mobile S-75 “Dvina” SAM launch platform was developed as a result, with the SA-2 missiles capable of reaching as high as 98,000 feet (30km). Improved versions of the same missile are still in service today.
At the same time, the Americans are super-excited. Hey, look at these pictures! Soviet SAM sites, military airfields and naval bases – we know everything now! Turns out those pesky Russians don’t have all that many bombers we thought they did! With every successful trip spy planes fly deeper and deeper into Soviet territory. Neither side can stop the U-2 flights for completely different reasons.
July 10, 1956
Khrushchev issues a protest to President Eisenhower demanding to stop spy plane operations over Soviet Union territory. Eisenhower reluctantly agrees and the U-2 cease their overflights until 1957. But the planes are far from being out of commission. To pass the time they are now spying on their allies, watching British, French, Israeli and Egyptian military forces fighting for control of Suez Canal.
November 10, 1956
Hungarian Revolution, the first major threat to Soviet control since WWII, has started only couple of weeks ago, but gets crushed by the Red Army. The West reads newspaper articles about burned Soviet tanks and dead men on the streets of Budapest. The Cold War just got quite a bit hotter.
November 18, 1956
Khrushchev says his infamous “We will bury you!” words in Moscow for the first time. He was actually trying to paraphrase Marx – “Like it or not, the history is on our side, we will dig you in”, referring to the workers class being the grave-diggers of the capitalism, but his interpreter gets confused and comes up with his own version. Khrushchev gets excited by the end result and will repeat the same words again in October of 1960, taking his boot off in the process (no, he did not actually bang it)
June 21st, 1957
Radio communications specialist and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (real name William August Fisher) is captured by the FBI after being exposed by a fellow spy who has chosen to defect. Abel is found guilty and is sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Soviet long-range radar installations get upgraded once more. The experts are baffled by the fact that their target keeps vanishing from the screens only to re-appear seconds later, and it’s speed varies between “crazy fast” and “pigeon flies”. What can the Soviets do about it? Nothing.
Autumn of 1957
U-2 airbase in West Germany gets compromised and all planes and personnel move in a hurry to a new airbase in Turkey. Between 1957 and 1960, the spy planes make more than 20 overflights into Soviet territory unmolested. At this point multiple U-2 bases exist around the world and to maintain the CIA cover story some of the planes are actually being used for weather research.
September 2nd, 1958
US C-130 plane stuffed with reconnaissance gear gets shot down over the Southern part of USSR. The bodies of 6 crew members were later returned to US officials. The fate of the other 11 crew members remains unknown to this day.
A veteran Soviet pilot gets his MiG-19 as high as 18km and spots a “cross-shaped object flying up above”. Moscow rejects the pilot’s information as his attempt to get an early promotion.
Soviet test pilot flying a brand new Su-9 jet fighter reaches the altitude of 23,852 meters (78,255 feet).
Two years later the same pilot will set another record for horizontal flight at the altitude of 21,170 meters (69,455 feet). Neither the Soviet people nor the rest of the world will be aware of these records for years to come.
July 26, 1959
During the American Exhibition in Moscow, Khrushchev is having a friendly chat with Richard Nixon, but gets angry quickly enough and says another of his infamous phrases “…We will show you Koozka’s Mother!”. Interpreters on both sides are totally confused and the West misinterprets Khrushchev’s words completely. While in Russian this idiomatic expression means “beat it, or we will show you (something you haven’t seen before)”, the final English translation sounds like a serious threat and a possible reference to an unknown Soviet super-weapon.
July 29, 1959
During Richard Nixon’s official trip to Svedlovsk, the surveillance gear aboard his plane detects large military installations around the city. Svedlovsk becomes Priority One target for CIA’s aerial surveillance division.
U-2 plane #360 flying out of Taiwan runs out of fuel and makes an emergency landing in Japan. The Japanese, with their ever-present cameras surround the plane, happily taking pictures. The Soviets, generally being able to calculate “2 + 2” right the first time, make their own conclusions. Any doubts they still had about what exactly is flying above their skies are now gone.
Now let’s step back for a bit here. Flying a U-2 is a real pain in the rear (literally). The pilot has to wear a special suit and a helmet for hours inside a very cramped cabin. In fact he has to put the mask on 2 hours BEFORE the flight for “pre-breathing” in order to get used to breathe pure oxygen. Over an enemy territory there’s a complete radio silence so the pilot is all by himself. There’s an auto-pilot, but the plane is too light and is too hard to control, so you have to fight the laws of physics every second. Your flight suit is very restrictive and your field of vision is so limited you can’t even land the U-2 all by yourself, you have to rely on other planes or very fast cars (yes, seriously) to guide you during the landing. The pilots are so exhausted after their flights that they are not allowed to fly any plane or drive a car for at least two days afterwards. Oh and to save weight, the pilot has only his survival pack on board. Actually the plane has little else on board. Just the self-destruct device right behind the pilot’s seat.
From Francis Gary Powers memoirs: “In normal breathing it takes a little effort to inhale, while exhaling is automatic. Under pressurization this is reversed. Inhaling is automatic, while exhaling is an effort. It was literally necessary to learn to breathe all over again. …By the time you returned to the base you were physically and emotionally exhausted. You told yourself it was because you had been wearing your helmet and breathing pure oxygen for twelve hours, because you had been in a tight-fitting suit in a cramped cockpit for ten. But that wasn’t all of it.”
Dragon Lady flies at the altitude of 70,000 feet (21 km) and has 3 high-res cameras on board, capable of taking pictures of the Soviet missile launch sites, airfields, tank depots, plutonium processing factories and other military targets. The cameras are so good they can read the numbers off the Soviet aircraft parked on the ground.
October 31st, 1959
Former US Marine, a trained radar operator, defects to the Soviet Union. While this Marine presumably did not know anything about the U-2 program, he was in charge of the brand new height-finding radar and was stationed close to the U-2 training facility. How much he has told the Soviets remains unknown. His name was Lee Harvey Oswald.
April 9, 1960
U-2 pilot Bob Ericsson flies from Norway over many military installations of USSR, taking excellent pictures and bringing tons of intelligence back home. Soviets are on high alert and launch a swarm of missiles at him, but their sites lack coordination and in the end they are unable to intercept Ericsson’s U-2 until it’s too late.
Khrushchev’s first reaction to this overflight was disbelief. He just came back from a trip to the United States, considered Eisenhower his friend and even invited him and his family to visit USSR. Never known for a patient man, Khrushchev’s shock turns to anger in no time. “I’m going to remove you all, pray to God it never happens again!” were his words to his top commanders.
April 30, 1960
Veteran Soviet pilot brings a brand new Su-9 plane from a factory in Siberia to a military airfield in Belorussia. The plane does not have any weapons onboard and it’s low on fuel – the tanker plane is too slow and is running late.
May 1st, 1960
May Day, Soviet state holiday, the communist version of Labor Day. The tensions between the two powers have eased somewhat so there will be no military parade this time, just a peaceful demonstration of workers. After all, the Four Powers Summit between US, France, UK and USSR in Paris is only 2 weeks away. There’s hope in the world that the Summit might do something about the arms race and bring the Cold War to an end…
6:26am local time, same day
After sitting for hours sweating in his U-2 waiting for the presidential approval, Francis Gary Powers takes off from Peshawar, Pakistan. It’s far from being his first flight – he’s done it many times before, but never this deep into the enemy territory. His mission is to fly across the vast western part of Russia, taking pictures and eventually land at an airbase in Norway.
Powers takes off well prepared. He has a map of the area his aircraft will be flying over, his survival pack, his real ID, plenty of money for a party in Norway later on, a lunch box his wife has prepared for him, a small silenced pistol only good at shooting unsuspecting rabbits and the Silver Dollar
– a fake US coin with an embedded pin with a needle dipped in curare, instantly deadly poison. Powers is a bit nervous – his “usual” plane was replaced with the #360 (the one that previously crashed in Japan) at the very last moment. This particular plane always had trouble with its autopilot. Still, he feels pretty good about his mission. The skies are so clear you can see targets hundreds of miles away. And besides, the Koozka’s Mother has to be down there somewhere!
1 hour later, same day
The pilot of the weaponless Su-9 gets a direct order to take off and ram the intruder. He’s offered a chance to decline, claiming the lack of fuel. He takes off replying “guide me to the target. Take care of my (pregnant) wife and mother”.
Two other Mig-19s scramble to intercept the spy plane. Because of the holiday nobody had remembered to change the IFF codes on time, so all 3 Soviet planes are being tracked as “enemy” by all SAM sites nearby.
On a clear day, U-2 plane pilot flying over Arizona can see the coast of California. What the pilot don’t get to see is anything that’s happening directly BELOW his plane. While there’s a “periscope” device for the purpose, it’s nearly useless. For years the U-2 pilots were not sure whether or not the Soviets can even detect their planes, let alone intercept them. This overflight will change that.
1.5 hours later, same day
Powers gets his suspicions confirmed the worst possible way. He’s observing jet fighter contrails appearing underneath his plane for the first time. Can Soviet radars track his plane? Now he’s sure they can.
2 hours later, same day
Soviet SAM site near Chelabinsk, not too far from Sverdlovsk. The site commander is polishing his boots and getting ready to give his soldiers leave for May Day. Suddenly all alarms go off, “this is not a drill”. His solders are seasoned, but these brand-new SA-2 missiles have never been used on real targets. Fearing an imminent nuclear attack, the site commander is waiting for his target to come within range….
4 hours later, same day (8:53am Moscow time)
Finally! The Soviet SAM site commander gives an order to launch the missiles. His lieutenant hesitates and gets an angry “Push the button, damn your mother!”. The first missile launches successfully, but the next two fail to launch. The Soviet automated systems are smart enough to detect that the target is already out of range. The very first missile detonates about 50 meters behind its target.
The Soviet SAM sites in the area are now launching missiles at both their own aircraft and the U-2. The weaponless Su-9 has enough fuel for only one pass in an attempt to ram the intruder.
Boris Eltzin, student of the local Politech University, is getting ready to march with his fellow students down the Sverdlovsk main street. He notices bright flashes in the skies above….
U-2 plane suddenly jerks forward and an orange flash lits the sky. Powers soon realizes that he has no control over the plane.
Not long before Powers’s flight, the automatic guidance systems of the SA-2 rockets were upgraded. The new system was smart enough to determine that in the event of the quickly decreasing proximity (damn, I’m close!) that would suddenly start increasing (shoot, I missed!) the missile would self-detonate. Thus the spy plane did not have to be destroyed by a direct hit.
Couple of seconds later, same day
The weaponless Su-9 jet fighter takes his only shot at ramming the spy plane and misses. The pilot actually manages to get higher than the U-2, and the wake turbulence his own plane creates is powerful enough to damage any nearby object…
As Powers tries to regain control of his U-2, a violent movement shakes the plane. Both wings come off and the U-2 is now spiraling out of control, nose up.
Powers tries to eject, but is unable to do so without severing his legs in the process. He manages to climb out of the cockpit instead, but forgets to disconnect the oxygen supply line and nearly kills himself. By the time he is finally free, the plane is too far away, so he never has a chance to use the self-destruct switch.
Powers’s parachute automatically opens up about 15,000 feet in the air. He is watching his mostly intact plane falling right below him and realizes that any money he has on him will be confiscated first. So he throws the Silver Dollar out, hiding the pin and hoping that he can use the needle inside as a weapon.
Powers touches down in a rural area near Sverdlovsk, 1,500 km (880 miles) east of Moscow and gets surrounded by farm workers. The locals have rushed to help him and are more curious than hostile – after all they’ve never seen a man who just fell from the sky, wearing a fancy suit and not knowing a word in Russian. Once the local authorities show up, Powers does not resist arrest and gets a free ride to the KGB headquarters in Sverdlovsk.
As Powers is being helped to the car, he notices another parachute in the sky. One of the MIGs was hit by the “friendly Soviet missile fire”. Unknown to Powers, the wounded Soviet pilot had managed to eject, but died on the ground shortly afterwards. Details of his death will not be made public for the next 30 years. By the twist of fate, the downed pilot’s widow will later marry his wingman.
Dragon Lady #360 hits the ground about 1300 miles inside the Soviet territory, nearly intact. Not only most of the gear on board the plane survives the crash, many parts bear the markings of “General Electric” and “Property of Department of Defense”.
9am Moscow time, same day
Nikita Khrushchev is standing on the tribune above Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow, watching the May Day parade. He knows about the overflight and he has been grumpy all morning. Once in a while a military man comes over and whispers in his ear. After the last report he takes off his hat and waves it, smiling broadly.
May 2nd, 1960
Powers gets a free flight to Moscow. The Soviets are so nice, they give him a tour of the city, trying to impress him. But just as soon, his interrogation begins in earnest. While Powers was never physically abused, the Soviets are masters at mind games and psychological tricks. The same questions are being asked over and over again so the hardest task for Powers is to remember his own statements.
During his 3-month long interrogation sessions Powers largely succeeds of convincing the Soviets that he was just a “airplane jockey” who flipped the appropriate switches at the designated locations on the map, without any knowledge what the equipment actually does. He also manages to hide the most important details about the U-2 program, such as the names of the fellow pilots, locations of other bases and the U-2 maximum altitude.
May 2nd, 1960
Khrushchev makes an announcement that an American plane was shot down over the Soviet territory. He never admits that Powers is still alive, so the US is led to believe that the self-destruct device worked as planned and the pilot has not survived.
May 3rd, 1960
The US Government issues a statement that a NASA weather plane that was flying over Turkey got off course, accidentally crossed the Soviet border and both the plane and the pilot were lost during the crash. To make the story more believable, another U-2 plane was hastily re-painted with NASA colors and presented to the press. Eisenhower later issues his personal statement trying to promote the “weather plane accident” story. The Soviets are quiet, waiting for the trap to spring.
May 5th, 1960
Oh, the Freedom of Speech! Journalists from all over the US are hunting for details about the “weather plane”. Sure enough, the exact location of the U-2 training facility, the maximum (exaggerated) altitude of the U-2 – the American press ends up giving the Soviets more information than Powers ever did.
May 7, 1960
Khrushchev makes a public statement announcing to the world that the United States have been using spy planes for years, the U-2 pilot is “alive and kicking” and the KGB has both the pilot and the plane.
May 16, 1960
NATO forces all go to DEFCON-3. But the Summit only lasts 3 hours. After trying to persuade Eisenhower to issue a public apology, Khrushchev accuses him of spying and walks out of the Summit. The Cold War continues on….
Oliver Powers, father of the downed pilot sends a personal letter to Khrushchev. As “one coal miner to another” he asks Khrushchev to free his son. Oliver also sends a letter to Rudolf Abel proposing a spy exchange. When CIA learns of Oliver’s letter to Abel he’s told to stay out. And yet some time later James B. Donovan enters the scene.
July 1st, 1960
The Soviets shoot down RB-47 reconnaissance plane over the Barents sea. Two survivors were released only a year later.
17 August, 1960
Powers gets one heck of a present for his 31st birthday! He is standing before the judges at his trial in Moscow. There is no jury, only 3 military judges, prosecutor and the defense councillor who’s less than useless. The farce trial quickly becomes a “USSR vs. USA” affair, with Powers caught in the middle. The captured pilot’s family attends the trial, but they are not allowed to meet him until after the sentence.
18 August, 1960
Fake witnesses, accusations of being not only a spy but also an assassin (remember that pistol?) fill the trial’s second day. The Soviets go as far as sticking the poisoned needle into a stray dog. The poor animal dies within 90 seconds.
19 August, 1960
During his last speech, the defense counsel does more damage to Power’s case than prosecution ever did. In the end Powers is sentenced to “only” 3 years in prison plus 7 years in a “hard labor” camp. A very lenient sentence for a captured spy, but a very harsh one for a pilot who was just doing his duty.
After the end of the trial, Powers finally meets his family. He also gets a 3-hour private meeting with his wife Barbara. Shortly thereafter he’s transferred to a extra-secure prison east of Moscow.
From Francis Gary Powers memoirs: “Looking back, I could see I had brainwashed myself into anticipating the death sentence. Perhaps it was a trick of the mind, an escape device. Perhaps unconsciously I had realized all along that for me the worst possible punishment would be a long imprisonment.”
From Abel’s letter to his lawyer: “I sometimes wonder what would have happened here—in Congress, in the press, on the radio and the TV—if something comparable to the U-2 incident had occurred in Kansas with some Russian pilot as the villain in the piece”
While incarcerated, Powers befriends his cellmate Zigurds Kruminsh, another “political” from Latvia and the only person in the whole prison who speaks English. Kruminsh teaches Powers how to weave rugs, make envelopes, play chess and speak Russian. The captured pilot’s skills at chess improve considerably. His mastery of the Russian language, not so much.
January 1st, 1961
During his traditional New Year’s toast, Khrushchev announces to the world that he’s ready to forget the past differences and “start anew”. Sadly, the newly sworn president Kennedy’s inaugural speech does not mention Powers at all and the best answer the American public has received was “It’s not the time yet”.
19 April, 1961
Today Powers is bored more than usual and is anxiously waiting for the next May Day, the traditional amnesty time in Soviet Union. He listens to the radio broadcast by Khrushchev about the failed American invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Any hopes Powers had about his early release are shattered instantly.
13 August 1961
Construction of the Berlin Wall officially begins. John F. Kennedy is the new President. Khrushchev is still the Premier. Powers is still in Soviet prison near Moscow eating boiled potatoes and manna 3 times a day.
October 30, 1961
The Soviets detonate the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created above an island in Arctic Ocean. The bomb had an official designation and will be later known as the “Tzar Bomb”, but the designers were always affectionally calling it by it’s nickname… “Koozka’s Mother”
8:55am, February 10th, 1962
Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, a very chilly morning. Powers is wearing a heavy coat and a Russian fur cap. After much delay and mutual identification procedure Fisher (Abel) walks past Francis Gary Powers, both men barely acknowledging each other. The first “spy swap” takes place, far from being the last.
The real reason that the Soviets didn’t shoot Abel right after the swap was that he never really was all that good of a spy. He failed to recruit anyone of importance and he never brought in anything of real value. Back in 1957 the Soviets knew this while the Americans did not. In a way that was the real reason the “spy swap” has happened at all – both sides knew that their agents had no big secrets to reveal, but couldn’t admit it to each other.
February 12, 1962
Powers comes back to the States among the great controversy. Most Americans seem to think that he’s a traitor and a coward, who spilled his guts to the Soviets instead of using the poison pin. The CIA doesn’t want any reporters to get in contact with him, so he’s being moved from safe house to safe house all over the country. His debriefing doesn’t feel all that different from the interrogations he had while in Soviet Union, but this time the “intelligence specialists” know exactly what questions to ask.
March 6th, 1962
Powers submits to a public hearing before Congress, which lasts only ninety minutes. He is cleared by the US government of all allegations of misconduct after his repatriation.
Powers wants to fly again, but instead gets a desk job at CIA. He soon realizes that the new agency is not much different from KGB – everything has to be justified, decisions are being avoided and the face-saving is more important than CIA’s primary function – collecting intelligence.
September 2nd, 1962
U-2 operating out of US airbase in Taiwan gets shot down during reconnaissance mission over mainland China. The pilot manages to bail out, only to die in Chinese hospital shortly after his capture. Any doubt there still was that the SA-2 is quite capable of reaching high altitudes is gone. U-2 overflights have just became a lot more dangerous.
Oct 15, 1962
Powers resigns from CIA and becomes a U-2 test pilot at Lockheed. The only good thing that came out of Powers’s desk job that he has met his future wife, Claudia (Sue), another CIA employee. A year later he marries Sue and adopts her daughter Claudia. Francis Gary Powers Jr. will be born in 1965.
Zigurds Dzidris Kruminsh, a former Nazi soldier who defected to the West and got caught by the Soviets as a British spy, gets pardoned by the Soviet Supreme Court. When given a chance, he speaks English with a pronounced Virginia accent.
November 15, 1971
“Colonel Abel” dies of lung cancer in Moscow, after being an “intelligence consultant” for years.
Shortly after publishing his book “Operation Overflight”, Powers is forced to quit Lockheed and eventually becomes a news-n-traffic helicopter pilot in California.
August 1st 1977
The KNBC helicopter that Powers was piloting to cover the fires in Santa Barbara County suddenly rans out of fuel. Attempting an emergency landing he sees children playing down below and decides to find another landing spot. His helicopter crashes, killing Powers instantly. A hero to the end….
At the funeral at Arlington cemetery a mysterious man approaches Powers’s son, puts a coin in his hand saying that “Zigurd” would like him to have it. By the time Francis Gary Powers Jr. finishes examining the coin, the man is gone.
April 17, 1989
The last original version Dragon Lady sets the official world record reaching 22,482 m (73,760 ft). Shortly after the spy plane gets repainted to it’s original “spy” black color and shipped to an Air Force Base in Georgia.
Francis Gary Powers Jr., establishes the Cold War Museum
dedicated to his father and other victims of the Cold War.
May 1st, 2000
After years of secrecy, the family of Francis Gary Powers receive awards that he has earned back in the 1960: – Prisoner of War Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, and National Defense Service Medal. In addition, Powers has also posthumously received the CIA’s coveted Director’s Medal for extreme fidelity and extraordinary courage in the line of duty.
If ever there was a chart of the world’s worst lose-lose events, the spy plane crash incident would easily take the top spot. For the first time, the American public realized that it’s own government is lying and got caught doing it. Eisenhower was accused of not being able to control his own administration, dealing a huge blow to the whole Republican party. Khrushchev got blamed by both Communist hardliners and liberals – the former wanted him to start a new war and the latter blamed him for being unable to secure peace with the United States and Khrushchev was forced to retire in 1964. The Cold War continued on, forcing both sides to spend huge amounts of money on both conventional and nuclear weapons for years to come.
Francis Gary Powers came back to the States with a weight loss and a huge stomach problem. While he was incarcerated for 18 months in a Soviet prison freezing to death, his ex-wife Barbara became a full-scale alcoholic with mental problems. Powers himself spent the rest of his life trying to prove that he did everything his country required of him and much more. The recognition he was due only came after his death.
The fate of Zigurds Kruminsh largely remains unknown. Because of his knowledge of English he has shared cells with other political prisoners, namely Marvin Makkinen and presumably Raul Wallenberg. He was pardoned in 1963 and died in the Soviet Republic of Latvia in 1984 – just 6 years short of Latvia’s independence.