MOSCOW, August 15. /TASS/. Russia's veteran cosmonaut, first space walker Aleksey Leonov, is about to publish a book containing documents and charts proving what the author says were the real causes of the air crash that claimed the life of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Leonov argues that Gagarin’s plane was sent into a spin by turbulence caused by a supersonic Sukhoi-15 jet that flew past too close.
"The illustrated album will be called Man and Space. Its release will be timed for the anniversary of the launch of the first ever-satellite. It will contain my paintings (about 100 of them), photographs and documents and various conclusions concerning different periods of life, the full account of my creative projects, and philosophical reflections. Also, there will be my own conclusions backed up by charts and diagrams (concerning the circumstances of Yuri Gagarin’s death - TASS). The sole exception is I promised to avoid naming the pilot (whose actions caused the crash of Gagarin’s plane - TASS). This is a very delicate matter. It is up to the government to make a decision," Leonov told TASS in an interview.
Leonov described himself as the sole living witness of the March 27, 1968 tragedy, in which Yuri Gagarin and instructor pilot Vladimir Seryogin died in an air crash in the Vladimir Region while flying a training jet MiG-15UTI. At that moment Leonov and other cosmonauts were making parachute jumps 13 kilometers away from the site of the crash. Later he led one of the sub-commissions that investigated the incident.
Leonov’s book contains diagrams and documents related with Gagarin’s death based on the findings of a joint investigation he carried out together with the Zhukovsky Air Academy. The plane’s model underwent wind tunnel tests at the Academy’s aerodynamics department. The test provided solid proof confirming Leonov’s theory.
"That plane was flying at an altitude of 4,200 meters at a supersonic speed. It passed Gagarin’s plane at a distance of just 10-15 meters to have sent it into a spiral. Everybody says: ‘They entered a tailspin.’ To enter into a tailspin the plane is to decelerate to 350 kilometers per hour. In the meantime they flew into the ground at 750 kilometers per hour. It was a deep spiral. The plane was turned upside down. That’s what really happened," says Leonov.
Among the documents he is going to publish a letter from Air Force Major-General Anatoly Polsky to the first deputy chairman of the Soviet government’s military-industrial commission, Nikolai Stroyev, with an account of a conversation with the pilot of the supersonic Sukhoi-15 jet, who had confessed he strayed out of his designated flight zone. Leonov said Storyev had strictly prohibited him from ever bringing up that question again. He warned that such a version would ruin the pilot’s life.
"Tupolev (aircraft designer Andrey Tupolev - TASS), too, asked to keep quiet about that. That was enough. It was Tupolev’s pilot," Leonov said.
Leonov does not believe other explanations of what caused Gagarin’s plane to crash, although he has his own critics, too.
"Not everybody agrees with me. Arseny Mironov (former chief of the Gromov Flight Research Institute - TASS) says this is not so and some pilots agree with him. But what do they say in return? They were not anywhere near at the moment. Mironov follows the beaten track. At that time he was that pilot’s commander," says Leonov.
He is critical of the aviation research institutes for failing to carry out a timely investigation and for their conclusion that Gagarin’s plane performed a daring maneuver to bypass a flock of ducks or a weather balloon.
"It’s a disgrace. Everybody agreed with that, because nobody was to blame. The blame was put on those who were no more (Gagarin and Seryogin - TASS). They (chiefs of the inquiry - TASS) should have been punished for not conducting an investigation they should have carried out. Who prevented them from studying that situation in the air tunnel of the Central Hydrodynamics Institute? It would’ve become clear at once that the plane that was in that area flew too close," Leonov said.
In the morning of March 27, 1968 Gagarin and Seryogin took off from the Chkalovsky airdrome near Moscow on a training flight. At 10:31 Gagarin radioed a "mission complete" message the control tower, adding he was returning to base. In less than one minute the plane flew into the ground killing the crew.
According to an official version the MiG-15UTI plane had to perform a sharp turn due to a sudden change of the situation in the area and entered a tailspin. There were some other rumors, for instance, of another MiG-15 that flew too close to Gagarin’s plane. Some claimed that instructor Seryogin’s record of flying the MiG-15 was too short and that technical errors had been committed while preparing Gagarin’s plane for the training flight. General Nikolai Kamanin, the chief of the first Soviet cosmonauts’ training program, says in his diaries that Leonov has been certain from the outset Gagarin’s plane crashed due to turbulence caused by a supersonic plane flying past.