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The Mysterious Death of Yuri Gagarin

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Ravi Shankar Rajan is a software program director who writes on varied subjects from history, archaeology to leadership and poetry.

The Mysterious Death of Yuri Gagarin

The Mysterious Death of Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin Was a Star

"Gagarin is dead!"

Sergei Kravchinsky, a young engineer at that time recalls the furore it caused across the Soviet Union.

"We heard a scream in the corridor: 'Guys, Gagarin is dead!'. It was a shock, all the women were crying,"

Yuri Gagarin became a legend when he became the first person to blast into space on April 12, 1961. With his infectious humor, movie star looks, and impressive charisma he quickly captured the imagination of an entire generation. He became an undisputed rock star for the Soviets in an era where ‘stardom’ was dominated by the Americans.

Immediately after his glorious success, the Soviets sent him on a tour to over 30 countries. He lunched with the queen of England, explored the pyramids with the president of Egypt, and danced with the Cuban President Fidel Castro. Gagarin charmed the world with his gregarious personality and enjoyed meeting various heads of state, royals, and actors who were all amazed by his journey.

But then like all good things, the fame also brought on him the pressure and the constant surveillance that comes along with it. He started feeling depressed and somewhat useless as he started drinking heavily. As his friend and Cosmonaut training head, General Nikolai Kamanin writes about him.

"It seems to me he's drinking a good deal. He's at the top of his glory, carrying a great moral burden, knowing that his every step is being watched. One or two years will pass, the situation will change drastically, and he will become dissatisfied."

Then when things were finally settling down for him as he stopped drinking and started getting back to work, he died suddenly in a freak accident. 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 was only 34 years old at that time.

The investigation into his death was classified as “absolutely secret” and was signed off by Communist Party chief, Leonid Brezhnev himself. It has been more than five decades since then and even now many conspiracy theorists just don’t believe that the man who conquered space can die so cheaply in a routine training flight.

Gagarin became an undisputed rock star for the Soviets in an era where ‘stardom’ was dominated by the Americans.

Gagarin became an undisputed rock star for the Soviets in an era where ‘stardom’ was dominated by the Americans.

The Mysterious Death of Yuri Gagarin

It was a windy, rainy, snowy day at Chkalovsky Air Base, with poor visibility when Gagarin and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin boarded on a MiG-15UTI test flight on March 27th ,1968.

Gagarin and Seryogin completed their test run with a series of simple turns, pitches, and nose dives and were scheduled to complete parachute jumping over the base when disaster struck as the plane lurched out of control. Minutes later, the officials at the base heard ‘a sonic spike, a blast, followed by one-and-a-half or two seconds of supersonic noise’. Then it went silent.

As the investigations started, it was found that both men had died immediately in the crash. Gagarin’s body was not found until the next day, creating some hope that he had ejected and survived. Seryogin ‘s body was found near the remains of the plane.

A government commission was formed to find out what had happened to the man who was a holder of the Order of Lenin and a shining star of the Soviet Union. About 200 investigators were enrolled in the investigations that went on for more than 8 months. But after doing such extensive study, the Soviet government did something bizarre that resulted in fueling numerous conspiracy theories over five decades.

The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev suppressed its findings and consigned the 30-volume report to the archives. Investigators were ‘instructed’ from publishing a summary of their conclusions as it would "unsettle" the nation and the matter was quietly forgotten.

Even his immediate family were not told about the findings as Gagarin was quietly buried without any fanfare at the foot of the Kremlin Wall alongside Soviet luminaries such as Joseph Stalin.

Was Yuri Gagarin's death an accident or state-sponsored murder ?

Was Yuri Gagarin's death an accident or state-sponsored murder ?

Was It Just an Accident?

Over the years, conspiracy theories flourished like mushrooms in the absence of any official confirmation.

One theory described his accident as a KGB assassination that was done to prevent him from ‘leaking’ the secrets of Leonid Brezhnev. Another wild theory stated that the two men were so heavily drunk that they had lost control of the plane. Gagarin had become a heavy drinker in the years that followed his fame.

Other theories that were conjured were too fantastic; that he had been abducted by aliens, that he had survived the crash and died in a Soviet psychiatric ward in 1990, that Serugin had killed both of them because he was jealous of Gagarin, and so on.

It was only decades later; less sensational and more logical theories came into the picture once the Soviet archives were opened. In 2001, retired Soviet Air Force Colonel Igor Kuznetsov and a team of researchers studied the accident and concluded that an open vent caused Gagarin's demise.

According to Kuznetsov, when Gagarin realized the cockpit's air vent was open, he began a descent to 6,500 feet as per the airplane's operation manual. However, he moved too quickly, lost consciousness, and crashed.

And the Soviets covered it up because this easily ‘preventable’ accident would be a massive PR disaster for them as their national hero died in a freak crash caused by human error. It was the era of the space race and the Soviets just did not want this embarrassment to be surfaced to the world.

While the truth about why he came crashing down to Earth may never be really known, the fact that Gagarin was a star and much-beloved hero can never be blemished by this freak downturn of fate.

Sources

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 28, 2021:

Thanks John for your comments

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 28, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this interesting account of Yuri Gagarin's life and death, Ravi. I can't recall ever reading about his death before.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 28, 2021:

Thanks Devika for your comments

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 28, 2021:

Interesting as usual you know how to capture readers and write as much as you do. Thank you for sharing with us another informative hub. Your topic ideas are unique. I like to read unique articles and learn from such topics.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Vidya for your comments

VIDYA D SAGAR on April 27, 2021:

Interesting article Ravi. What a sad end to a gifted person, that too at such a young age.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Miebakkagh for your comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 27, 2021:

Russia didn't like to share any negative aspect of her country with the outside world. Despite the fame Gagarin brought as a First all over the world to Russia, the young man was buried like an Elite dog. The article with all its simplicity of presentation is very interesting. Thanks for the thought provocating read.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Peggy for your comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2021:

Whatever caused his death, it is tragic that he died at such a young age. Suppressing information often sparks controversy and conspiracy theories.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Ann for your comments.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 27, 2021:

Interesting. I remember his space flight. I was only 10 but then the travels to the moon began and it was all very exciting. Such a tragic end to the life of a respected and good guy.

Ann

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Lorna for your comments

Lorna Lamon on April 27, 2021:

It's sad that such a gifted young man should have his life end in this way. I always think that by supressing information it only adds fuel to the speculation of why it happened. Perhaps it was a freak accident, however, it is Russia!!!!! An interesting subject - thought provoking.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Bill for your kind comments.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2021:

As always, a riveting article filled with fascinating facts.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Thanks Liz for your comments

Liz Westwood from UK on April 27, 2021:

This is a fascinating article. I recall seeing his grave in the 1980s on a student visit to Moscow. But I had no idea of the details of his death.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 27, 2021:

Gagarin died on Mar. 27, 1968 in a freak accident, when the MiG fighter plane that carried him and instructor Vladimir Seryogin crashed in the Vladimir region just outside Moscow. Gagarin was only 34 years old at that time. Was it an accident or a state-sponsored murder?

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