The mysterious death of Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin was the first man in outer space, when he orbited the earth in the first manned space flight exactly fifty years ago.
Gagarin was for a brief time the most famous man on earth and hailed as a hero by millions around the world.
However, the cosmonaut did not get to enjoy his celebrity – he died just seven years later in a mysterious plane crash that has generated a mountain of conspiracy theories.
Gagarin died on Mar. 27, 1968 when the MiG fighter plane that carried him and instructor Vladimir Seryogin crashed in the Vladimir region just outside Moscow.
Gagarin had become deputy training director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow.
Gagarin was only 34 years old.
Just last week, in advance of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s monumental achievement, the Russian government said it had declassified documents related to his death.
The ministry of defense claimed that Gagarin died during a training exercise when the jet he was piloting had to make a sharp maneuver to avoid hitting a weather balloon.
Alexander Stepanov, the Kremlin’s top archives official told a news conference that a Soviet investigation commission from that era determined this was the most likely cause of the hero’s death.
The document, from November 1968, was classified as “absolutely secret” and was signed off by Communist Party chief, Leonid Brezhnev.
“The conclusions of the commission are that the most likely cause of the catastrophe was a sharp maneuver to avoid a balloon probe,” he said.
“A less probable cause was avoiding entry into the upper limit of the first layer of cloud cover.”
The commission wrote that maneuvers by Gagarin or Seryogin led the jet into a “supercritical flight regime and to its stalling in complex meteorological conditions.”
Stepanov added that he now hopes his findings finally puts an end to all the rumors surrounding Gagarin’s untimely passing.
“I hope they will dismiss very many speculations that are circulating in Russia in pseudo-history books,” he said.
Other causes of death speculated over the years included theories that Gagarin suffered from oxygen deprivation or that perhaps he crashed into another airplane. More ominous theories involve a murderous sabotage, although this has never had much credence or evidence.Other wild rumors were that Gagarin was drunk while piloting the aircraft; or that Brezhnev somehow staged the crash because he was jealous of Gagarin’s immense popularity.Vitaly Davydov, the deputy chief of Roskosmos, The Russian space agency, emphasizes that Russia has nothing to hide about Gagarin’s death,”Today there aren’t documents on Gagarin’s flight left that we have consciously kept secret because it would be damaging if they were made public,” he said.
It appears that at some stage after the Soyuz I accident, Gagarin lost his flight status. According to one Western report, he was involved in a car crash which resulted in the scar seen over one eye. Alternatively, he may simply have been grounded following Vostok I, it being considered that he was too valuable to risk. Whatever the reason, it seems that he had to regain his flight status, and he began flying under supervision in early March 1968, after passing a medical examination on 12 March.
Uncharacteristically, Gagarin asked to be relieved of all other duties, and made his first flight on 13 March in a two-seater fighter. It was said that his break from flying did not seem to have affected his piloting abilities. He flew again on 19 and 20 March, and this was said to be ‘a further step towards flying solo.’
In 1998 Valentina Gagarin was Interviewed for a Moscow Television documentary “the First Man in Space”.
About Gagarin’s death she had these words. (Trans. from the Russian).”Forgiveness. Let’s see. Before Gagarin’s death I had been reading Platonov. ‘Fro’ or ‘The Foundation Pit’, some other piece? Anyways, it wasPlatonov. Gagarin had been in a strange mood, the space program, them not letting him be the first moon man or no, it was something else, me. There are things I can’t reveal. Perhaps there are things better to suffer with to the grave. At any rate, I shouldn’t have said it but I did. I said, referring to the Platonov who at that time nobody read. I said, “He suffered for the people and you, how do you know suffering? At that time, I was speaking about something completely different, trying as women are able, to justify ourselves.”
On 22 March Gagarin flew again, and his trainer Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Ustenko ‘knew that Gagarin would soon be allowed to make a solo flight, and therefore checked his flying technique and landing with special care.
On 23 March, General Kamanin, discussing Gagarin’s training programme, said ‘It’s a very fast pace, Yuri,’ evidently worried that Gagarin was overworking. However, he did not try to dissuade Gagarin from flying, and consequently from training for another spaceflight. In his opinion, he should never have stopped flying.
On 27 March 1968, at 10.19 AM, he and Colonel Vladimir Seryogin took off from the airfield adjoining Star Town for another routine flight in a two-seat MiG 15. Several minutes later, the two men requested permission to alter course, and this was granted. Nothing more was heard from them. With mounting alarm, it was decided to send out search planes, and they found the MiG’s smoking wreckage approximately 30 miles (48.3 km) East of Moscow. The plane’s chronometer had stopped at 10.31. Was Gagarin inebriated from the moment of take-off as some stories suggest, not even getting the plane off the ground before a disastrous crash.
This recently released KGB tape claims to elucidate the aforesaid speculation.
Gagarin’s ashes would have been buried in the Kremlin, but, it was revealed in 1984, his body was never found. In his honour, the Soviets named one of the space tracking vessels ‘Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.’
His death was a terrible blow to the Soviet space programme, coming as it did less than a year after the death of Komarov. He had been an extremely able and popular man, deeply respected by his colleagues. They had described him as ‘a man of principles, decisive, bold, steadfast.’ He had a straightforward and frank personality, a warm smile quick wit.’ He was also very good at putting people at their ease in his presence. Nikolai Kamanin once said ‘He was lively, had a winning personality and was a good mixer.
Cosmonaut Lebedev preparing to make the first moonflight.
The fellow astronauts look distracted.
Compare the picture above with this KGB archive photograph below. Albeit with noticeable weight gain and somewhat melancholy expression, Gagarin is present! While the above photograph has been retouched, there can be no doubt that the photograph is the same one. If this is so, this photo is the last before Yuri Gagarin’s mysterious death.
The apparently deceased Gagarin half-heartedly smiling next to Lebedev.
Yuri Gagarin had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Those who met him reported that he was an unassuming and pleasant man who seemed quite unaffected by the publicity that his exploits had brought him.His contribution to manned spaceflight was great. He flew into unknowns, where no man had been and in doing so, opened the road to the stars. His name will live forever in the annals of manned spaceflight. (Vichnaya Pamyat)
Independent Russian investigators say they have uncovered crucial new evidence which finally reveals how the world’s first man in space died aged just 34.
The study claims Gagarin’s death during a routine training flight in 1968 was caused by his panicked reaction after realising an air vent in his cockpit was open.
He threw his MiG-15 fighter jet into such a steep dive that he blacked out and crashed into a forest below killing himself and his co-pilot.
Igor Kuznetsov, a retired Soviet air force colonel, believes his findings will end years of conspiracy theories ranging from claims Gagarin was drunk to allegations the accident was staged by jealous Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
He has spent the past nine years with a group of aviation specialists, piecing together the circumstances using modern accident investigation techniques.
Gagarin died on a routine flight seven years after he shot to global fame by orbiting the Earth for 68 minutes. His mission handed the Soviet Union a spectacular propaganda coup and Gagarin quickly became the USSR’s biggest star.
But the findings of the original investigation into his death have never been published and are known to have been vague.
Investigators were only able to conclude that “the most probable cause” was a sudden in-flight manoeuvre made to avoid a weather balloon or cloud cover.
But after studying hundreds of documents relating to the incident, Col Kuznetsov has concluded that an air vent in the cockpit was left partially open.
He said Gagarin and his co-pilot realised the cockpit was not hermetically sealed as they were approaching 10,000ft and took emergency action to descend to a safer altitude.
But according to Col Kuznetsov, the two men dived far too quickly and lost consciousness as a result – the plane then ploughed into a forest killing Gagarin and his trainer, Vladimir Seryogin, instantly.
Medical knowledge at the time meant the pilots would not have known it was dangerous to descend at such speed.
The operating instructions for the MiG-15 were also flawed, he adds, and did not specify how the pilots were supposed to use the fateful air vent.
Col Kuznetsov also raises the suggestion a careless pilot who used the same plane in the days leading up to crash may have been to blame for the open vent.
Until now, it had been thought that Gagarin himself was the last person to use the plane two days previously.
But Kuznetsov says he has now learnt that other pilots simulated a flight in the same plane prior to Gagarin’s fatal flight. He believes they may have tampered with the air vent and wants to determine their identity and what kind of training they were doing.
“Nobody knows what really happened except us,” said Col Kuznetsov. “We need to tell our people and the international community the real reason why the world’s first cosmonaut died.
“This part-open vent triggered the entire sequence of events that followed. These new facts need to be checked independently and by a government commission. Or even by foreign specialists.”
Col Kuznetsov says he wants space and aviation experts around the world to get involved to confirm his findings.