- Historical event:
- 28 May 1987
- When he entered Soviet territory, the Soviet air defense was alarmed. Three divisions armed with surface-to-air missiles followed Mathias, but did not receive permission to take him down. The Soviets then sent two interceptor aircraft. The Soviet pilots requested permission to down him, but this was also denied.
On this day in 1987, a legendary incident occurred during the Cold War.
The young German pilot, 18-year-old Mathias Rust, landed a Cessna 172 right near the Red Square in Moscow, the center of the Soviet empire. Mathias Rust, from West Germany, started his venture two weeks earlier when he took off from around Hamburg towards Iceland. From there he headed to Norway and then Finland, where he filled up with fuel in Helsinki. Leaving Helsinki, he told air traffic control he is going to Stockholm, but he flew towards Moscow instead.
When he entered Soviet territory, it alarmed the Soviet air defense. Three divisions armed with surface-to-air missiles followed Mathias, but did not receive permission to take him down. The Soviets then sent two interceptor aircraft. The Soviet pilots requested permission to down him, but this was also denied.
Mathias managed to fly to Moscow. At first he wanted to land in the Kremlin, but he decided that, amid the walls of the Kremlin, the KGB could secretly arrest him and cover up the entire event. So he decided to land in a public place, Moscow’s main square. However, as the Red Square was full of pedestrians, he had to land on a nearby bridge, next to St. Basil’s Cathedral.
He was greeted by curious onlookers, and quickly arrested. He was sentenced to four years in labor camp, but was released the following year, so he returned to West Germany. His venture had far-reaching historical consequences.
The reputation of the Soviet air defense and the whole army was undermined to the extent that President Gorbachev fired Minister of Defense Sergei Sokolov (Marshal of the Soviet Union), as well as the head of the Soviet Air Defense Forces Alexander Koldunov (Chief Marshal of Aviation). Gorbachev allegedly use the incident as an excuse to get rid of commanders who opposed his reforms. The decline of the military’s reputation in the eyes of the entire population of the USSR eased the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War.