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1960: Moscow jails American U-2 spy pilot
The United States pilot, Francis Gary Powers, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Soviet military court.

Powers had pleaded guilty to spying for the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after his plane was shot down on 1 May at an altitude of about 68,000 ft (20,760 m), south of Sverdlovsk, 850 miles (1,368 km) east of Moscow.

The charge sheet said the route taken by Powers "left no doubt that it was a deliberate intrusion into the air space of the Soviet Union with hostile purposes".

Powers told the court the U-2 was designed and built for high-altitude flights. He had been told it could fly beyond the reach of anti-aircraft fire.

Summit called off

He described the moment the plane was hit: "I felt a hollow-sounding explosion. It was behind and there was a kind of orange flash."

In the wreckage of the U-2 were found films of Soviet airfields and other important military and industrial targets. A tape recording was found of the signals of certain Soviet radar stations.

Powers was asked why he made the 1 May flight. He said he assumed he was looking for rocket launching sites.

The court heard Powers was equipped with emergency gear, including money and gold, and there was a mechanism on the plane for destroying it to avoid capture. He also carried a poisoned pin to enable him to commit suicide in case of torture.

Powers told the court he was offered a well-paid job with the CIA after leaving the US Air Force.

He was told his work would involve flying along the borders of the Soviet Union with the purpose of picking up any radio or radar information.

Powers was asked if he now regretted making his last flight. He replied, "yes, very much".

He also apologised for the damage to US/Soviet relations. His plane was shot down on the eve of a superpower summit in Paris, which was subsequently called off. A visit by President Dwight Eisenhower to the Soviet Union was also cancelled.

In his final speech to the court, prosecutor Roman Rudenko outspokenly attacked the United States as inspirers and organisers of what he called "monstrous crimes" against peace.

He said the US had demonstrated "the real intention of making use of the provocative incursion of the U-2 plane into the Soviet air space as a pretext for wrecking a summit meeting, plunging the world again into the state of cold war, aggravating the tensions in international relations and putting a brake on the Great Powers' talks on disarmament".

Powers' wife Barbara and parents have been in court since the trial began three days ago. They are hoping to appeal against the sentence.

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Gary Powers pictured centre
Gary Powers in the dock at Moscow Halls of Columns



In Context
The Powers verdict did not produce a great wave of indignation in America. Although President Eisenhower complained the sentence was too harsh - public feeling was that it could have been far worse.

On 10 February 1962, Gary Powers was freed in return for Soviet spy Colonel Rudolph Abel. The two men were exchanged in Berlin.

Relations between the two superpowers suffered another setback in October 1962, when a U-2 plane spotted Soviet missiles being deployed in Cuba. It led the two sides to the brink of nuclear war.

Captain Gary Powers ended up working as a helicopter pilot for a Los Angeles television station. He was killed in a helicopter crash in 1977.

In 2000, he received three posthumous awards from the US Air Force, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The US is still using U-2 planes for reconnaissance.

Stories From 19 Aug


 
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