[FPSPACE] New theory emerges in Gagarin death mystery

jeoberg at comcast.net jeoberg at comcast.net
Fri Mar 28 20:40:00 EDT 2008

here's the full text at kom pravda....

http://www.kp.ru/daily/24070/308344/ Who cut the straps of Gagarin's parachute
Forty years ago, the world's first astronaut died. The Soviet State Panel's conclusions about the incident, however, were never made public. 
Alexandr MILKUS, translation J. Marshall COMMINS — 25.03.2008 
Every 5 years to the day, I meet with astronauts, engineers and pilots who investigated the fateful March 27, 1968 crash of the MiG-15UTI training flight manned by Yury Gagarin and Vladmiri Seregin. Time and time again, they recount their personal theories of how the tragedy unfolded. 
How strange, indeed. One would expect a more uniform opinion. The Soviet State Panel launched a detailed investigation into the crash. Hundreds of specialists rushed to the scene to clarify how the world's most beloved man died. But silence ensued. Their conclusions were never released to the public. 
Why are the Panel's conclusions still classified today? Why is a lone obituary signed by the Political Bureau the only official document about the death of Gagarin and Seregin? The obituary does not contain a single word about the reason for the pilots' deaths, only: "As a result of a catastrophe while on a training flight......" What happened on that fateful March day? What caused the deaths of these two experienced pilots manning an aircraft that they knew well how to fly? 
To a large extent, this article relies on materials gathered by Igor Ivanovich Kuznezov. 
In 1968, Kuznezov, a 33-year-old major and aviation equipment specialist at the Defense Ministry's Scientific Research Institute, was a member of the Engineering Sub-Commission tasked with examining the crash of Gagarin's MiG-15UTI. At the time, the Institute had highly advanced methods of investigating aircraft crashes. Years later, Kuznezov began re-investigating the tragedy with new technical knowledge and a better understanding about how people behave in extreme aviation situations. 
The forest was trampled in a three-kilometer radius
We should begin with the 1968 Soviet State Panel that refused to disclose its conclusions publicly. But be that as it may, all theories and rumors of what transpired are based on the accounts of specialists who participated in the investigation of the incident. 
The "State Panel for Determining the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Soviet Pilot and Astronaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel Gagarin and Hero of the Soviet Union, engineer and Colonel Seregin" was established by the Soviet Central Committee on March 28 – the day after the crash. The Panel consisted of four sub-commissions: 1. Flight Sub-Commission: Examining the Crew's Flight Preparation, Checking the Pilots' Organization and Safety on March 27; 2.Engineering Sub-Commission: Examining and Analyzing the MiG-15UTI Aircraft; 3. Medical Sub-Commission: Evaluating the Pilots' Condition Before and During the Flight, and the Official Identification of the Deceased; 4. KGB Sub-Commission: Determining if the Catastrophe was the Result of a Conspiracy, Terrorism, or Malicious Intent.
The sub-commissions left no stone unturned. 
Imagine the thick Kirzhach forests. It was the end of March – a harsh winter with snow at waist-level. A 6-meter crater spanned the earth. The crash had been tremendous – so strong that the 5-ton aircraft burst into pieces like a crystal vase falling onto a concrete floor. 
Broken pieces of the MiG-15UTI were saturated in fuel, mixed with snow and dirt. Soldiers combed the forests repeatedly searching for clues of what transpired. They searched up to 5 kilometers from the crater to the east, south and west; and up to 12 kilometers to the north. The budding green grass was trampled by mid-April over a radius of three kilometers from the crater. The ground was combed with a tiny sift nearby. Remarkably, investigators were able to gather 90 percent of the aircraft. On average, only 40 percent of aircrafts are recovered from crash sites; 60 percent is a rare feat.
The investigators weren't able to locate the crash site right away. They searched the area by plane, hunting the pilots' white dome-like parachutes. But they were nowhere to be found. The team later found the cater in the thick of the forest. Within 6 hours, they cordoned off the crash site. The first specialists to examine the area on March 28 were shocked. The crew had no parachutes. Their straps were not torn. They had been cut off deliberately. 
Theory ¹ 1. Terrorism. How else can the loss be explained? Someone cut off the parachutes so the pilots could not land safely. The enemy had set everything up so the pilots could not escape.
The parachutes' mysterious disappearance led to numerous conjectures. Some even asserted that General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev had ordered Gagarin's killing, because he envied his popularity. But the truth proved much simpler than anyone supposed. 
Few knew that three days after the crash, KGB agents had found the parachutes in a neighboring village. The Panel's work was already confidential and no information was leaked to the public. Engineers in one sub-commission weren't even allowed to discuss the case among themselves. But the explanation was rather boring. Before the area was cordoned off, looters from a neighboring village had discovered the aircraft and stolen the parachutes. Apparently, they thought the fabric would be of use around the farm. If the villagers had known who manned the aircraft, they would likely not have stolen anything. 
When the parachutes were brought to the laboratory – they were covered in brown spots. Needless to say, the experts were shocked. "Blood?!" they thought. "There wasn't any blood at the crash site!" Indeed, the pilots' bodies had been crushed due to the enormous impact. But upon closer observation, they discovered it wasn't blood after all. The villagers had hidden the parachutes under piles of manure. And yet another confirmation of the Panel's scrupulousness – they had found a jaybird's corpse in the soil near the crash site. 
Theory ¹ 2. Investigators immediately assumed that the aircraft had hit a bird and gone into a nosedive. They called in a group of ornithologists and learned not only that the aircraft hadn't hit a bird, but that the jaybird had been killed by a goshawk. They also discovered from which side the jaybird had been attacked. 
It wasn't a lucky day
Another sub-commission determined what the pilots had done each second before the flight. They learned how they had behaved earlier that day by speaking with acquaintances. 
In 2003, we talked about the results of the investigation led by Soviet special agents. The wife of a local technician who checked the aircraft before take-off was even included in a list of potential suspects. Years before, she had made contact at the "Khimka Reservoir's Sunny Meadow Harbor with Dorothy Katterman, wife the of the cultural affairs attache at the U.S. embassy." But they checked with their sources and discovered that the meeting had been purely accidental. 
Theory ¹ 3. Seregin and Gagarin were drunk. They were heroes, playing pranks in the sky and no one could get in their way. But their recklessness caught up with them. 
The truth be told, two days before the crash, Gagarin and Seregin had several shots of alcohol at a birthday party at the Kryshkevich Astronaut Training Center. They drank up and went home. But on March 26, neither one had a single drink. 
All-in-all, the town had pretty much written Gagarin off as an alcoholic already. One should mention, though, that he had good reason to drink. After becoming the first man in space in April 12, 1961, Gagarin attended one feast after another – with party and military heads and at foreign receptions. Everyone wanted to meet the world’s first astronaut. And most importantly they wanted to drink with him. 
"Don't be so pretentious! You don't want to raise your glass with us?!" With time, Gagarin learned to handle these provocative remarks. And, in 1967, he was only 33. Gagarin did not turn sour from official ceremonies. He wanted to go back to space, and needed to know how to pilot an aircraft to do so. 
But March 27 was an unlucky day for Gagarin and Seregin. First, something went wrong with Gagarin's car and he had to take the bus to the Chkalov Aerodrome. Then when he got inside, he realized that he did not have his pass. 
"Don't go home! They'll let you in without your pass! Everyone knows you!" said his co-pilots.
"No, that's not right!" Gagarin said, and went home. But pilots consider "having to go back" a bad omen. His colleagues tried to convince him to cancel his training flight, but he refused.
Seregin also had a bad morning after an unpleasant conversation with Astronaut Training Center chief General Kuznezov after his pre-flight medical examination. He was sullen boarding the aircraft.
Theory ¹ 4. Our irresponsibility is to blame. The aircraft was old, worn-down and the meteorological agencies did not check to see if the weather permitted training flights. 
This is partially true – and the aircraft making meteorological surveillance had landed only a minute before Gagarin's aircraft took off. At the time, MiG-15UTI aircrafts did not have black boxes. They had loggers on board instead that tracked the aircraft's speed and altitude. But for some reason, someone forgot to put paper in Gagarin's logger that day. 
Two radio-locators were supposed to guide the flight. One was supposed to track the aircrafts' course, and the other – its altitude. This is of the utmost importance. At any one time at any one area, 7 machines functioned with the MiG-15UTI at various altitudes. But the radio-locator wasn't working that day. And the course monitor wasn't photographed every 30 seconds as was the accepted norm. Inconsequential details?
The Panel determined that these small details did not affect the training flight. They reported that the aircraft was in perfect condition before the crash. But the missing logger and radio-locator prevented them from drawing an accurate picture of what transpired. 
However, there is one detail that no one paid any attention to initially. A fateful detail... But we'll discuss this issue in our next article.
Theory ¹ 5. An authoritative researcher of the tragedy Lieutenant Sergey Mikhailovich Belozerkovskiy told me persuasively that the MiG-15UTI entered the vortical stream of a passing aircraft, lost control, corkscrewed and crashed. Renowned astronaut Aleksey Arkhipovish Leonov supports this theory. 
So could it have been the "human factor" after all? Could a pilot who worked in the same flying zone as Gagarin been responsible for his death? Possibly. But there is not one drop of evidence supporting this theory. 
Theory ¹ 6. Astronaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov told me that he believes the aircraft crashed with a weather balloon, which were frequently launched to collect data about the weather. A weather balloon is a balloon filled with gas attached to heavy capsule with supplementary devises. He supposes that a weather balloon hit the aircraft's lighting cover. Depressurization resulted and the aircraft went into a nosedive.
"When I retire, I'll wander around the Kirzhach forests and find that weather balloon," Titov said. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2000.
But an important fact should be emphasized. Soldiers did find tens of weather balloons in the area where the aircraft fell. But they were all old. Moreover, the engineers found 94 percent of the aircraft's lighting cover, which they pasted back together. If the glass had burst at a high altitude, then the pieces wouldn't have been located in a pile inside the cater. Thus, the lighting cover did not break in the air. 
Forty years later
The information was made confidential because there was absolutely nothing to say. The State Panel looked at everything – studs, screws, fuselage debris and clothing scraps. They measured the speed and angle at which the aircraft fell to the ground and the likelihood of it pulling out of a nosedive. But the facts did not form one comprehensive picture. There was no one conclusion to be drawn. Thus, new theories evolved, such as an aircraft encroaching their fly space and low clouds preventing the pilots from pulling out of a nosedive. 
"The puzzle simply couldn't be solved with yesterday's technology," said Kuznezov. 
What's next then? Admit that the State Panel, which was entrusted with emergency authority, couldn't get down to the truth? Admit that the best engineers, medics and pilots couldn't find out why the world's first astronaut died? 
And so the Panel was closed down quietly. And the material was hidden away as "Top Secret." 
But now, 40 years have passed. It's time to open the archives and find an answer to one of the world's most mysterious aviation catastrophes of the 20th Century. Kuznezov is convinced that with today's technological capabilities and understanding of how individuals act in extreme situations, we'll be able to say for sure what happened to Gagarin. He has pieced the entire flight back together – second by second. 
Stay tuned for the next article.
Another opinion
"The Political Bureau did not want to learn the truth," said academic Valentin Glushko, a founder of Soviet cosmonautics. 
"I remember my father telling me in 1987 why the investigators did not learn what happened to Gagarin and Seregin," Glushko said. "He said the problem wasn't the complexity of the crash on March 27, but rather how they attempted to analyze it."
In his opinion, the top authorities (right up to Political Bureau members) did not have the least desire to find out what had happened. Thus, cooperation among sub-commissions was poorly organized and members of the analytical division were poorly selected. 
"As a result," he said. "Any professional investigator with a technical education would have brought more good to the investigation than the people who made the final conclusions about the death of the world's first astronaut."
Glushko believed there were reasons why the officials didn't want objective conclusions to be drawn. But why?

Did Gagarin die because he followed instructions?
We've reconstructed the last 15 minutes of Gagarin's life. [Video Reconstruction]
Alexandr MILKUS, translation by J. Marshall COMMINS — 27.03.2008 
What did the Soviet State Panel learn from investigating the deaths of Yury Gagarin and Vladimir Seregin? 
1. The MiG-15UTI aircraft was in working order before hitting the ground. The training aircraft had two cockpits – both for a student and an instructor. 
2. Both pilots were sober. Medics didn't find any alcohol in their blood. Gagarin and Seregin felt healthy before the flight, but weren't able-bodied when the plane crashed. 
3. Two MiG-15UTI aircrafts took off shortly after Gagarin (whose aircraft was code signed "625"). They were followed by the MiG-15UTI training aircraft code signed "614." The 614 traveled parallel to Gagarin at an altitude of 3,000 meters. A total of 7 aircrafts were in the air at the same time as the 625. 
4. Seregin was the last to control the aircraft. How was this determined? The pedals and pilot's shoes were destroyed at the same angle. It must have been a grueling task for the doctors on site. The pilots' bodies were utterly destroyed. The doctors identified their remains by the color of their underwear. Seregin was identified by pieces of his scalp and ears. Gagarin was identified by a mole behind his ear and the fingers of his left hand. A fragment of his hand remained on the engine operating handle. Its papillary lines were compared to Gagarin's fingerprints from his home phone, the glass on his office desk and personal letters. 
5. The ventilation valve in Gagarin's cockpit was half open when the aircraft took off. As a result, the cockpit was depressurized. This is the "small detail" that I referred to in my previous article. Who opened the valve? Gagarin? Probably not. The valve was likely open when the pilots boarded the aircraft. 
Monitoring the valve wasn't the responsibility of the aerodrome's mechanic, but rather the pilots. However, MiG-15UTI aircrafts assembled in the Soviet Union didn't have such valves. Gagarin's aircraft did, though, as it was built in Czechoslavakia. The pilots most likley paid no attention to it. 
Who's to blame for the cockpit's depressurization
"No one is to blame for the open valve," said aviation engineer Igor Kuznezov. He participated in the Engineering Sub-Commission in 1968 that was tasked with investigating the tragedy. He began looking into the mysterious crash again in 2000. "The cockpit was depressurized when the aircraft took off. That's a fact. The pilots probably didn't know. They were well trained, but they didn't know they were losing oxygen at 4,000 meters."
Gagarin's aircraft took off at 10:18. Seven minutes later, at 10:25, the pilots reached an altitude of 4,200 meters. They then proceeded to execute their first assignment – two coordinated circles ("Figure 8's"). 
"It's clear they didn't know the cockpit was depressurized," Kuznezov said. But why didn't they use the oxygen tanks in the cockpit? That's difficult to say. They most likely didn't put their masks on when they were on the ground."
At 10:30, Gagarin informed the flight director that they had completed their first assignment. He requested permission to turn around and take the course "320," which meant turning left, entering the flight corridor and returning to the aerodrome. The request must have taken the ground officials off-guard. Gagarin hadn't finished his assignment. He still needed to execute a steep climb and nosedive. There was also enough fuel in the aircraft to last a full 25 minutes. If the pilot was urgently canceling his flight, then something was wrong. The director should have asked Gagarin what happened, but he didn't. And Gagarin didn't tell him. 
"When pilots are in the air they can hear the conversations of other pilots with the ground station," Kuznezov said. "But there's also etiquette. I think Gagarin and Seregin didn't want to bother anyone. They didn't think the situation was critical. They thought they were two heroes and could handle anything." 
"You can't fly that way!"
Let's throw out all the conjectures. 
The pilots didn't tell the base they had a problem. That's a fact. But there's yet another mystery. Why didn't Gagarin take the 320 course, as he was supposed to do, according to official instructions? 
Deputy Director Colonel Vyacheslav Bykovskiy saw that Gagarin was taking a different course on his radio-locator and later wrote: "Gagarin didn't take the 320, but rather flew in the opposite direction. You can't go that way!"
"There's an explanation for this. The cockpit was depressurized and the pilots followed official instructions on how to act in similar situations (which haven't changed since). The instructions say that pilots must urgently end their assignment, decrease altitude to 2,000 meters and return to base." 
The pilots had to urgently decrease altitude from 4,200 meters. But they couldn't turn left and take the 320. They risked crashing into the 614 that had taken off 5 minutes after Gagarin completed his figure 8. The 614 had probably caught up with the 625 and was flying nearby at 3,000 meters. Gagarin should have flown 12 o'clock, but he couldn't – a parachute group had just jumped near the Red October Aerodrome. He was left with only one option – to turn right and fly further into his zone where there were no other planes. 
Furthermore, according to instructions, Gagarin should have urgently decreased altitude. But what does urgently mean? It can mean one thing for a civil aviation pilot and another for a fighter pilot like Seregin. Many of Seregin's colleagues say that he loved difficult manoeuvres. In 1954, he almost broke an aircraft when on a test flight – while forcing the plane to execute extraordinary manoeuvres. 
Seregin took control of the aircraft before the crash. He was the last one to fly the plane. He made a tough manoeuvre and entered into a nosedive. The manoeuvre begins with the pilot turning the aircraft upwards, then making a wide arc and quickly descending. It's possible that Seregin wanted to show Gagarin this new manoeuvre, as the latter hadn't yet mastered aerobatics. 
"In 1985, 17 years after the catastrophe, we had the technology to calculate the height where the nosedive began. I calculated 4,100 meters," Kuznezov said. "Everything fits." 
Back in 1968, investigators had determined that the aircraft descended steadily. It approached quickly the ground, and the pilots didn't attempt to pull out of the manoeuvre. But Seregin was an experienced pilot. Why didn't he try to pull out of the nosedive?
"Because he and Gagarin weren't able-bodied enough to do it!" Kuznezov said.
Thus, Gagarin spoke calmly with the director and passed out several seconds later. 
"Somewhere around 4,100-4,200 meters, the pilots either lost consciousness or entered a pre-collapsed state. This would have occurred in a depressurized cockpit quickly losing altitude."
Kuznezov explained his calculations. 
Pressure was growing in the cockpit. At 4,100 meters, pressure is about 460 millimeters on the barometer, while it's 760 millimeters when on the ground. The pilots jumped 300 millimeters in less than half a minute. It's the same as submerging 50 meters into the sea in the matter of seconds. 
The pilots also felt the effects of hypoxia. Gagarin and Seregin were in a depressurized cockpit for 6 minutes before entering into a nosedive. The accelerative forces from descending so quickly weakened their ability to withstand the growing pressure. Today's pilots are protected in similar situations. They have special costumes and pressurized helmets. However, at the time, pilots only wore leather jackets. In similar situations, pilots have died on military training flights in the U.S.
"In 1975, our medics prohibited pilots from descending faster than 50 meters per second," said Kuznezov. "But it was 1968 and Gagarin's aircraft was losing altitude at 145 meters per second – three times faster than the accepted norm."
"I can't say who lost consciousness first. What's important is that they didn't try to pull out of the nosedive at 2,000 meters. This means they were unconscious. They passed out during the 14 seconds when the aircraft descended from 4,100 to 2,000 meters. 
Why have I placed so much stress on Kuznezov in this series of articles? He spoke with myriad participants from the government investigation and made multiple calculations. Also, although he is confident that his theory is accurate, he has left the door open for further developments. And he is genuine in his desire to learn what happened to Gagarin. Thus, he believes that a new state investigation should be launched to test all theories and draw an official conclusion. 
"There is a law in aviation," Kuznezov said. "Each and every unsolved mystery is like a mine. If left behind, thousands of pilots are at risk. It could easily explode in a similar situation and take countless human lives."

Who made Gagarin`s death confidential
Alexander MILKUS, translation J. Marshall COMMINS — 27.03.2008 
Òhe world's first astronaut, Yury Gagarin, died on March 27, 1968. KP examines why one of the most famous aviation crashes of the 21st Century still remains a mystery.
The world's first astronaut Yury Gagarin was killed in one of the most mysterious aviation disasters after World War II. The crash is legendary. Not only was Gagarin making an ordinary training run on board a reliable MiG-15UTI, but he was also accompanied by an experienced pilot, Soviet Hero Vladimir Seregin. Seregin was an instructor tasked with training Gagarin. He had accompanied him on numerous test flights on that very aircraft. 
On that fateful March day, the pilots did not execute any complicated maneuvers. The weather was not ideal, but passable. At 10:30, Gagarin calmly informed the flight director that they had completed their assignment. Sixty-eight seconds later an explosion gave way in the Kirzhach forests.
"I hoped Gagarin had time to catapult"
General Nikolay Petrovich Kamanin, assistant to the commanding officer of the Military Air Force, wrote in his diary that he hoped Gagarin had time to catapult from his aircraft. In the 1960s, Kamanin was responsible for training Soviet astronauts.
"We received the following message: 'Gagarin and Seregin took off on their MiG-15UTI at 10:19. Connection was lost 30 minutes later. Fuel will run out soon.' I hoped that an ace pilot like Seregin would be able to find his way out of any situation, and the complications would end in an emergency landing, or at worst, the pilots catapulting from the aircraft.
"They met me at the command post. The report was short. 'Two Il-14 aircrafts and four Mi-4 helicopters are in the air, searching Kirzhach, Pokrov and the outlying areas of eastern Moscow.' The search continued for a long while with no results. But at 14:50, the commanding officer of one of the helicopters reported: 'I've found pieces of the aircraft three kilometers from Novoselovo village.'
"I quickly took a helicopter to the crash site. I had a great deal of experience searching for fragments of aircrafts from the sky. And my eyesight had not let me down once. This time, though, I only saw traces of the accident on our third turn. Soon, we landed by the edge of the forest, 800 meters from where the aircraft had crashed. The snow was over one meter deep. We stepped forward slowly – up to our waists in snow. An hour went by before we reached the crash site.
"It was soon clear that one member of the crew had died. Doctors said it was most likely Seregin. Initially we found no signs that Gagarin had died, but our hope soon died. 
"At 16:32, we found the pilot's plane-table [a devise used for surveillance purposes] in the cockpit. We had reason to believe that it belonged to Gagarin – although we were not completely sure. We still hoped that he was alive – the plane-table could have remained in the cockpit even after he catapulted.
"The emergency commission met at the command post at the aerodrome until 03:00 in the morning. They decided to continue searching by plane and with ski groups and that helicopters would join them at dawn. We still had a glimmer of hope that Gagarin may have catapulted.
"Nothing of any significance had been found by 07:00 in the morning. But they had determined that the plane-table did in fact belong to Gagarin (it had been filled out in his handwriting with red ink). Around 08:00 in the morning, I noticed a stray piece of material. It turned out to be a piece of Gagarin's clothing. I found a breakfast meal ticket made out to Gagarin in the breast pocket. There were no further doubts. Gagarin was dead.
"Then we found Gagarin's wallet with his personal identification, driver's license, 74 rubles and a photo of Sergey Pavlovich Korolev on the front."
Twenty years later
The investigation would have been far less detailed had Gagarin not been on board. Most likely, no one would have known anything about the strange catastrophe – except for the pilots at Chkalov Aerodrome. 
Hundreds of specialists had been called in to investigate the crash. But no single conclusion was drawn, and no attempt was made to explain why Gagarin had died. 
All materials concerning the case were archived and marked "Top Secret."
The authorities were silent about the reasons behind Gagarin's death for nearly 20 years. But in 1989, participants in the investigation, including astronauts Gherman Titov and Aleksey Leonov, test pilot Sergey Mikoyan and Doctor of Technical Sciences and Air Force Lieutenant-General Sergey Belozerkovskit, finally decided to publish their own theories about what happened to Gargin. They voiced them in an open letter to the government that they hoped would open the door for further research into Gagarin's death.
Below are segments from the open letter:
"We needed to solve the following questions to accurately determine the reasons behind Gagarin's death: (1) The initial flight stats are known (from the moment of the last radio exchange), including the condition of the crew and their technology on board, the approximate altitude, course alteration, most probable flight regime; (2) The final stats (before the crash), including the condition of the glider, engine, hardware; the condition of the plane and rudders; the flight's parameters, engine's working regime; condition and position of the crew. (3) The time that the aircraft passed from the initial to the final phase (one minute). We need to determine the most likely picture of how the flight unfolded and the pilots' actions."
And further:
"It turns out that the aircraft could not have dropped 4,000 meters in altitude in the course of roughly one minute before collision [...] if the aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft had not been significantly worsened. The conclusion was reached that the aircraft entered into a corkscrew. The possible reasons are that it entered the vortical stream (of a neighboring aircraft), swerving from an actual or perceived obstacle, or the effects of wind. One objective reason that the commission did not issue a uniform conclusion was the differing opinions about why the aircraft entered into the corkscrew."
The authors of the letter address the likelihood of the pilots making an error. They are of the belief that the pilots could not have made a fatal mistake leading to the crash.
As a pilot, Seregin was considered "very reliable, decisive, highly qualified and of the utmost discipline in character."
Gagarin prepared for the flights "thoroughly, without deviating from the norms or rules." The instructors who worked with them on previous flights gave him a perfect score. 
Former commanding officer of the Fighter Plane Squadron Colonel Ustenko, who had flown with Gagarin on his last successful flight, said: "Gagarin felt confident in the cockpit. He was not fidgety. He knew the locations of the valves and tumblers blindfolded. He did not make sharp movements when piloting an aircraft. He reacted to observations in a timely manner, and you never had to repeat the same thing twice. He wanted to fly – not to just talk about flying – and was serious about flight training."
Why was the letter only published in 1989? Most likely, this was no accident. The Soviet political and bureaucratic system was still strong. But myths about Gagarin's death were being published everywhere – sometimes crazy, provocative or insulting theories. 
Some said that the control stick in Seregin's cockpit had been unscrewed. Others said that the pilots were purposefully given an old airplane. Some even said that Brezhnev ordered Gagarin's death because he envied his popularity. Worse still, some claim Gagarin was abducted by aliens.
How could the inquisitive parties get the current government to address such questions? The only solution would be to request the government to publicly announce the reasons for Gagarin's death. But this would mean having to open secret archives. It was unheard of to demand confidential files from the Political Bureau, so the next best bet was to publish an open letter about the incident. And they did.
But no answer was provided by the higher echelons.
Forty years later
Another 16 years of silence passed before there was a second attempt to learn the official conclusion about Gagarin's death. In 2005, managers and journalists appealed to President Putin to conduct a repeat investigation into Gagarin's crash: "The catastrophe does not concern domestic affairs or politics. It is a difficult question of aviation."
The group received the following answer from the presidential apparatus: "According to our information, there is no basis to doubt the conclusions drawn by the State Panel that investigated the catastrophe. As a result, we see no point in conducting an additional investigation."
But what conclusions did the Panel draw? Who has seen them?
Whoever classified the conclusions of the investigations as "Top Secret" in 1968 likely hoped that either they or future state employees would ultimately discover the truth about what happened on that fateful March day. For today, the pieces of the aircraft are still intact. They have been treated with an anti-corrosion layer and are hermetically sealed. They are currently stored at the Defense Ministry's 13th State Scientific Research Institute (where the initial investigation was conducted 40 years ago).
Theory: "They did everything right"
In 1968, Igor Ivanovich Kuznezov was a major and an employee at the Defense Ministry's 13th State Scientific Research Institute. He participated in the investigation into the crash. Today, he is confident that he knows what happened to the pilots based on the motion trajectory of the aircraft that he calculated at the crash zone.
The aircraft was depressurized while on the ground. The ventilation valve of Gagarin's cockpit was not completely closed. The pilots realized this when they were approaching an altitude of 4,200 meters and started their mission - "a figure 8." After learning the valve was open, they should have ended the flight and returned to the aerodrome. They should have dropped altitude immediately. Instead Seregin took control of the aircraft himself. The aircraft fell into a nosedive. 
According to Kuznezov, the accelerative forces and initial effect of hypoxia weakened the pilots. The aircraft dropped at a rate of 145 meters per second. The pressure grew at an enormous rate in the cockpit. 
"They lost control of the aircraft within 14 seconds, when the MiG-15UTI went into a nosedive from 4,100 to 2,000 meters," said Kuznezov. "Americans have had similar situations." As of 1975, medics prohibit pilots from dropping altitude at more than 50 meters per second.
At such a dangerous altitude, no one could pull the aircraft out of the nosedive. In 15 seconds, the aircraft hit the ground. 
Documents from the personal archive of Aleksander Jeleznyakov were used in preparing this article.

New theory emerges in Gagarin death mystery
MOSCOW, March 27 (AFP) Mar 27, 2008
Russia's popular Komsomolskaya Pravda daily has put forward a new theory for the death of Soviet hero Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, in a fighter jet crash 40 years ago on Thursday. 
Gagarin's death has generated countless theories over the years, ranging from a contract killing out of envy by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to the idea that aliens may have taken their revenge on the space pioneer. 
But the true culprit may have been a banal technical fault and an excessively fast descent for an emergency landing, Komsomolskaya Pravda said, quoting a member of the original inquiry into the 1968 crash. 
Gagarin died at the age of 34 on March 27, 1968 -- just seven years after his historic space flight -- during a training flight on a Mig-15 in the region of Vladimir, some 190 kilometres (118 miles) east of Moscow. 
The results of an inquiry into the crash have never been made public. 
But former aviation engineer Igor Kuznetsov told Komsomolskaya Pravda that the jet's cabin had not been hermetically sealed and that Gagarin and co-pilot Vladimir Seryogin were forced to attempt an emergency landing. 
Gagarin and Seryogin followed rules on descending for the landing from an altitude of around 4,000 metres to 2,000 metres but the drop was too sharp and they probably lost consciousness, causing the crash, Kuznetsov said. 
"Somewhere between the altitudes of 4,100 and 2,000 metres they either lost consciousness or found themselves in a pre-fainting state. That's what would happen in a non-hermetic cabin," Kuznetsov said. 
The death is likely to continue to be a mystery, however, as long as it is shrouded in official secrecy. The Kremlin in 2005 turned down a request by journalists and engineers to open archives on the crash. 
On Thursday, an official from the research institute that keeps the remains of the fighter jet sealed in metal containers, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying there was "no need" for another inquiry into the crash.

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