An American plane shot down over East Germany

An American plane shot down over East Germany

On January 28, 1964, one of the many Cold War incidents related to the overflight of aircraft over enemy territory occurred. This one, unfortunately, ended fatal for US pilots flying over the East German border.

The downed plane was an unarmed T-39 Sabreliner exercise aircraft. Unlike the more famous incident in 1960, when an American spy plane, Lockheed U-2, was shot down near Sverdlovsk, this time the border crossing was most likely accidental. The T-39 crossed the border and continued to move east regardless of the command’s attempts to alert the crew of what had happened, probably because their radio had broken. Only five minutes after the crossing, the plane was shot down by Soviet MiG-19 hunters near the village of Vogelsberg in Thuringia.

A diplomatic incident ensued. The Americans sued the Soviets for a “shocking and senseless act,” and they defended themselves, claiming they had to act because the plane ignored radio messages and a warning shot. The Soviets only allowed Americans access to the crash site on Jan. 30. It turns out that all three body members were killed. Their bodies were returned to the Americans, and after the end of the Cold War, local authorities erected a memorial to the fallen airmen.

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