Francis Gary Powers

May 1st, 1960; A lone U-2 high altitude long-range reconnaissance aircraft piloted by Francis Gary Powers was attempting the longest mission profile ever flown "to fly all the way across the Soviet Union...with a planned route would take it deeper into Russia than ever before, traversing important targets never before photographed."

A Powers was over Sverdlovsk, a total of eight S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missiles were launched, one of which hit a MiG-19 jet fighter attempting to intercept Power's U-2. Its pilot, Sergei Safronov, ejected but died from injuries sustained in the missile strike. Another Soviet aircraft, a Su-9, also attempted to intercept Powers' U-2. Unarmed at the time, the pilot of the Su-9 was directed to ram the U-2 but missed due to the high closure speed.

Unfortunately, one of the eight SA-2 Surface to Air missiles managed to find its target, and Power's U-2 was hit.

"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 being thrown out of the plane after releasing the canopy and his seat belt. While descending under his parachute, Powers managed to scatter his escape map, and rid himself of the US dollar coin, keeping the poison pin. "Yet I was still hopeful of escape."

Powers hit the ground hard, was immediately captured, and taken to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.
When the U.S. government learned of Powers' disappearance over the Soviet Union, they issued a cover statement claiming a "weather plane" had strayed off course after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment". What CIA officials did not realize was that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months. On 19 August 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage, "a grave crime covered by Article 2 of the Soviet Union's law 'On Criminality Responsibility for State Crimes'". His sentence consisted of ten years confinement, three of which in prison, the remainder in a labor camp.

On 10 February 1962, Powers was exchanged, along with American student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicized spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. The exchange was for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, known as "Rudolf Abel", who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage.

Powers initially received a cold reception on his return home. He was criticized for having failed to activate his aircraft's self-destruct charge to destroy the camera, photographic film, and related classified parts of his aircraft before his capture. He was also criticized for not using an optional CIA-issued "suicide pill"

During a speech in March 1964, CIA Director Allen Dulles said of Powers, "He performed his duty in a very dangerous mission and he performed it well, and I think I know more about that than some of his detractors and critics know, and I am glad to say that to him tonight."

Sadly, on August, 1st, 1977, Powers had been covering bushfires in Santa Barbara County while flying a KNBC News helicopter, his Bell 206 Jet Ranger, ran out of fuel and crashed at the Sepulveda Dam recreational area in nearby Encino, several miles short of its intended landing site at Burbank Airport, killing Powers instantly.

The NTSB report attributed the probable cause of the crash to pilot error (poor fuel management). According to Powers' son, an aviation mechanic had repaired a faulty fuel gauge without telling Powers, who misread it.

Reports indicate that during the emergency autorotation, Powers noticed children playing in the area where he was attempting his emergency landing, and redirected his helicopter elsewhere to avoid them. If not for the last-second deviation, which compromised his autorotative descent, he might have landed safely.

Powers is buried in Arlington National Cemetery as an Air Force veteran.

On 15 June 2012, Francis Gary Powers was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal for "demonstrating 'exceptional loyalty' while enduring harsh interrogation in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow for almost two years." Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz presented the decoration to Powers's grandchildren, Trey Powers, 9, and Lindsey Berry, 29, in a Pentagon ceremony.




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