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  Yuri Gagarin: Flying under the influence?

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Author Topic:   Yuri Gagarin: Flying under the influence?
Gordon Reade
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posted 02-02-2007 11:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gordon Reade   Click Here to Email Gordon Reade     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A few days ago I was having a conversation with a professor at Stanford University when the name Yuri Gagarin came up. The professor (who is considered to be one of America's leading experts on Russian history) stunned me when he said that on the last day of his life Gagarin and his flight instructor showed up to fly both of them stinking drunk. According to the professor anyone else would have been turned away but since Gagarin was the great space hero no one had the guts to prevent him from climbing into the cockpit of the MiG and roaring off. The professor said Gagarin died as a result of drunk flying.

"I can't believe that," I replied. "The story that Gagarin was drunk when he died is not in any of the history books. Not a single one of them."

The professor just smiled at me and said, "For more than a hundred years after his death none of the history books said that Thomas Jefferson was sleeping with his slaves but anyone who really knew American history knew that he was."

To that I had no reply. Has anyone else heard that Gagarin was drunk when he died?

FFrench
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posted 02-02-2007 11:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, it is one of the myths that was spread after he died - along with myths about how they were shooting at deer from the cockpit, that it was murder... etc.

Unless this professor has any particular, new, first-hand evidence of his theory, he really shouldn't be spreading myths like this. Perhaps you could convey this to him, and ask him what evidence he has for his theory.

FFrench
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posted 02-02-2007 11:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And the theory that one / both of them was drunk is discussed in some history books - along with the accounts of tissue samples from their remains sent to laboratories for analysis, including checking alcohol levels. The results - alcohol not a factor in the accident. One book says the drunkenness story was a myth started by Kuznetsov, Seryogin's superior, who did not like him.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-02-2007 11:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Alexei Leonov addresses the topic in Two Sides of the Moon (page 221):
After a while rumors started to circulate. One claimed that Yuri had been drinking before he flew. Another speculated that he and Seregin had been taking potshots at wild deer from their plane, causing it to spiral out of control. Yet another claimed that Yuri was not dead at all, but had been thrown into prison after tossing a cognac at Brezhnev's face. Another had it that he was languishing in a mental asylum. Such rumors drove me crazy.
Leonov continues on the next page, addressing what he believes to be the true cause of the crash:
At the time of the accident, it was known that a new supersonic Sukhoi SU-15 jet was in the same area as Yuri's MiG. Three people who lived near to the crash site confirmed seeing such a plane shortly before the accident. According to the flight schedule of that day, the Sukhoi was prohibited from flying lower than 10,000 meters. I believe now, and believed at the time, that the accident happened when the pilot jet violated the rules and dipped below the cloud cover orientation. I believe that, without realizing it because of the terrible weather conditions, he passed within 10 or 20 meters of Yuri and Seregin's plane while breaking the sound barrier. The air turbulence created overturned their jet and sent it into a fatal flat spin.
Leonov offers additional complications concerning Gagarin's jet and explains why the investigating committee would never admit to such. He concludes his discussion of Gagarin's passing as follows:
But now nobody repeats any nonsense about Yuri being drunk, irresponsible or mad. After the many years I have spent talking about what I believe to be the truth of what happened that terrible day in March, the explanation that it was the result of an approach by a supersonic jet, is, at last, widely accepted.

Gordon Reade
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posted 02-03-2007 12:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gordon Reade   Click Here to Email Gordon Reade     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well that is very interesting. If I understand the situation correctly Alexei Leonov believes that the accident report was a deliberate deception, a fabrication created to prevent embarrassment for the pilot of the Sukhoi SU-15. Leonov himself believes that the official explanation of Gagarin's death was a lie.

Perhaps I'm being cynical but if Leonov believes that the members of the accident investigation team could lie to protect the reputation of the anonymous pilot of the Sukhoi SU-15 why couldn't they lie to protect the reputation of a hero of the Soviet Union?

Clearly Leonov was wrong when he wrote, "But now nobody repeats any nonsense about Yuri being drunk." Leonov himself repeated it! I'm beginning to think that the professor was right after all!

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-03-2007 12:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gordon Reade:
I'm beginning to think that the professor was right after all!
Why? What does the professor offer to support his claim?

Leonov offers evidence to support his theory, including the flight records of the Sukhoi, the evidence put forth by the official record of Gagarin's death (e.g. "The crash site was at almost exactly the position from which which [the] last transmission was made, indicating that they had been forced into a flat spin immediately."), and that he and the team of cosmonauts he was training that day had been witness to two "loud booms" coinciding with the time of the accident. Before learning that Gagarin had been lost, Leonov and his fellow cosmonauts were discussing the nature of the booms, attributing them to a sonic boom and an explosion.

FFrench
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posted 02-03-2007 12:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gordon, just because the exact cause of the accident is still of some debate (but has been narrowed down to a range of possible scenarios) does not mean that some of the more outlandish theories cannot be dismissed. As I stated, scientific evidence did so in this case with the accusations of drunkenness.

When you say "protect the reputation of a hero of the Soviet Union" - you'll have to double that. Seryogin, Gagarin's piloting instructor, was also a Hero of the Soviet Union, commander of the special air wing at Chkalov that supported Star City, and known as a methodical, accomplished pilot. Are you joining your professor colleague in repeating a disproven slur against him too, even when it has been explained to you how it has been disproven by scientific tests?

FFrench
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posted 02-03-2007 01:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If relying on Leonov's memoirs is not an academic enough source for you, I'd suggest reading Asif Siddiqi's book, which is a stellar, reliable piece of research on all aspects of the Soviet program. He describes a reconstructed scenario close to Leonov's, and states that studies find "the accident did not occur because of pilot error."

Gordon Reade
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posted 02-03-2007 01:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gordon Reade   Click Here to Email Gordon Reade     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good questions, I was talking with Prof. Richard Schupbach. I also have a copy of "Two Sides of the Moon" and you will see that on page 222 Leonov says that his own account of the accident had been altered. At the time, 1968, Leonov himself was world famous and a hero and yet someone with access to the report was so bold as to forge Leonov's own handwriting! That would be like forging John Glenn's signature and expecting to get away with it.

This tells me that something is indeed very very rotten in Denmark! So what really happened? Leonov writes, "Three people who lived near the crash site confirmed seeing such a plane (Sukhoi SU-15) shortly before the accident." But stop and think, Leonov states the near midair collision happened near 4,200 meters. That's more that 15,000 feet and the Sukhoi SU-15 has a wing span of only 30 feet! Who can ID a plane that small when it is at an altitude of nearly 3 miles and supersonic?

Leonov adds, "I believe ordinary people were unable to accept the real explanation because the technical details of Yuri's plane being intercepted by a SU-15 jet were too complicated for most to understand." Well that says a lot! I don't understand what happened because I'm just too stupid.

What's clear is that the accident report is worthless and what Leonov has to say doesn't add up. It sounds to me like some one was lying to protect Yuri but that lie failed. When it did Leonov created a new lie also to protect Yuri who he "loved like a brother." It's hard for a pilot to admit that his buddy screwed up.

hinkler
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posted 02-03-2007 02:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for hinkler   Click Here to Email hinkler     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think you need to look at how things were done in Russia in the 60's and 70's. Korolev was not mentioned by name and unflown cosmonauts who left training were airbrushed out of pictures. Details of Bondarenko's accident were not known by the west for some years.

I really don't see how you can argue with tissue samples that show no alcohol in their bodies.

What really happened when Gagarin crashed? We may never know but the generally accepted theory is that their aircraft lost control after hitting the wake vortex of the other aircraft. They were too low to recover and crashed into the ground.

Some people will always look for conspiracies and cover ups and in all honesty some of them are as bad as the guy that Buzz Aldrin slugged.

Gagarin was a true hero and does not need his reputation besmirched by some professor who bases his theories on gossip.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-03-2007 02:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Perhaps I am overlooking something in Prof. Schupbach's CV but from what Stanford provides of his background, it appears his focus is the Russian language and its literature:
Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Richard Schupbach received a BA in Russian Studies from Yale and a PhD from UCLA in Slavic linguistics. He teaches courses ranging from the history of the Russian language to humor in Russian literature. His scholarly interests focus on modern Russian, and his avocational interests tend toward identifying and collecting edible wild mushrooms (very Russian).
Can you inquire with Prof. Schupbach if, in regards to Gagarin's passing, he is repeating something that was told to him or if it is the product of his own research?

Gordon Reade
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posted 02-03-2007 02:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gordon Reade   Click Here to Email Gordon Reade     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even after the passage of many years aircraft accident investigations have been reopened when new data becomes available or when new technology becomes available to reanalyze the old data. Since the Gagarin report is so clearly flawed why not reopen it? Why settle for popular opinion and conventional wisdom?

I think the reason the case has not been reopened is that their are people who are afraid of what may come to light. If you want to lump me in with the guy who got slugged by Buzz so be it.

But are you really happy with the official explanation? I don't think so. If we leave the case closed and let sleeping dogs lie and you can believe whatever you like. But is that respect for the truth? Is that respect for history?

Gordon Reade
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posted 02-03-2007 02:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gordon Reade   Click Here to Email Gordon Reade     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, I can tell you a little about my own background. I have been a flight instructor for almost 20 years. I hold a CFI, CFII and MEI. I work for the Stanford University School of Medicine researching aging effects in pilots. When I hear about an aircraft accident I want to know what happened.

Was Yuri drunk when he crashed? I don't know. But that explanation makes about as much sense as anything else I've heard concerning his death.

If what Leonov says about the accident is true did he he ever try to find out who was flying the SU-15? If the man is responsible for Yuri's death why allow him to continue to terrorize the skies?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 02-03-2007 03:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gordon Reade:
Even after the passage of many years aircraft accident investigations have been reopened when new data becomes available or when new technology becomes available to reanalyze the old data. Since the Gagarin report is so clearly flawed why not reopen it?
Igor Kuznetsov, the senior airman who headed the investigation into the crash in 1968, called for the case to be re-opened in 2005.
"At the time we faced a wall of secrecy designed to stop us finding anything that might damage the Soviet reputation.

"But now so many files have been de-restricted that I believe it would be possible once and for all to find the real reason for the death of the first man in space."

His belief as to the cause however, has nothing to do with alcohol.
Kuznetsov claims Gagarin and Seryogin fell unconscious because a cockpit vent was left open, meaning the plane's cabin would not have been pressurised from take-off. The pilots would only have realised this as they flew to high altitudes and by the time they had climbed to 4,200 metres they were already suffering from oxygen deprivation.
The vent would have been left open by a technician or the pilot who flew the plane prior to Gagarin and Seryogin.

According to Ed Holt writing for Scotland on Sunday, who interviewed Kuznetsov, the rumor that Gagarin was drunk was based on hearsay and was debunked.

The alcohol-induced crash theory had been fuelled by Gagarin's presence at a birthday party two nights before his death at which he was rumoured to have downed so much vodka that he was still drunk when he got on the plane 48 hours later. But investigators said he had passed two medical examinations before take-off, and a post-mortem examination found no alcohol in his system.
Source: Inquiry promises to solve Gagarin death riddle

FFrench
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posted 02-03-2007 03:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Gordon Reade:
Was Yuri drunk when he crashed? I donít know. But that explanation makes about as much sense as anything else Iíve heard concerning his death.

I think Ian puts it best:

"I really don't see how you can argue with tissue samples that show no alcohol in their bodies."

And I'm puzzled how you cannot fail to see that conclusion. Unless you are proposing some kind of ever-widening conspiracy theory here where absolutely everything discovered about the crash at the time is open to question, including doctored tissue samples, a theory that I've never heard aired before? That a decorated test pilot of the Soviet Union and respected instructor behaved entirely out of character? That the most respected researchers into this issue, over many decades, have not discovered?

You may have valid queries about how the accident came about. But I'd argue that "respect for the truth... respect for history" does not include lumping in the parts that we can state were not contributing causes.

By your own admission, a couple of hours ago you believed that the rumor of drunkenness was "not in any of the history books. Not a single one of them." As has now been explained to you, that is not true. The theory is in many history books discussing the accident, and to all reasonable purposes disproved. Tissue sample results are not "popular opinion and conventional wisdom" - they are historical evidence.

hinkler
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posted 02-03-2007 03:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for hinkler   Click Here to Email hinkler     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Simple fact from a number of reliable and accepted sources, an analysis of the remains showed that Gagarin and his instructor were not drunk.

Argue with that all you want but at least accept facts.

Yes it would be nice to know what really happened but considering that official records have been lost or destroyed do you really think that is going to happen.

There are a whole lot of things we would like to know but sometimes have to accept that there are some things we will never know for sure.

There is no need to sully the reputation of a true space pioneer by rehashing old theories. Gagarin was no saint but to suggest that his death was due to his being drunk when there is evidence to the contrary is simply uncalled for.

ejectr
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posted 02-03-2007 06:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Think of all the times Gagarin and his instructor crawled into a cockpit either alone or together with another pilot prior to this accident and made it okay. Maybe even sometimes after throwing back a few... and nothing happened.

Why this time without extenuating circumstances?

I think both of these guys were a little too professional for what your professor is tagging them with.

ColinBurgess
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posted 02-03-2007 06:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As "Both Sides of the Moon" has been mentioned and cited in this discussion (and I'm also dismissive of any claims that Gagarin was drunk), I'm left wondering like some other confused researchers just how much of his "side" of the book Leonov actually wrote? For instance, he gives two different dates for the death of Bondarenko, and in discussing the events for which Nelyubov was sacked from the cosmonaut corps he adds Rafikov's name into those who were involved in the incident that night, and were summarily dismissed from the cosmonaut corps.

Rafikov was NOT with the other three that night, and when Leonov states that all four men voted for their own dismissal at a peer meeting I also find that curious; the only ones dismissed at this time over the incident were Anikeyev, Filatyev and Nelubov. One would think that Leonov might not only remember the circumstances surrounding this very prominent and salutory lesson to all members of the first cosmonaut group, but that Rafikov had left the cosmonaut group a full year before this incident.

So it makes me wonder how much Leonov actually had to do with the writing of this book and the reliability of its contents?

asdert
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posted 02-05-2007 05:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for asdert     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Leonov also claims to have visited Cuba in summer 1965, where he met Hemingway and spoke with him about Gagarin's favourite: "The Old Man and the Sea".

Too bad that Hemingway died in 1961 and had left Cuba the year before.

In his previous book, Leonov remembers that he spoke with Gagarin about Hemingway, not the other way round.

If this story is made up, how much else is made up? What a pity that such a great man loses credibility because of poor ghostwriters.

In this respect, his first book (I walk in space) of 1971 is still a good reading, because you KNOW that Soviet literature was written to produce heroes and you know that you should't believe every bit.

Duke Of URL
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posted 02-07-2007 12:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Duke Of URL   Click Here to Email Duke Of URL     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't know. Gagarin was a brave man and a hero.

Nothing about his death in any way obviates those facts. How he died isn't really important, is it?

mjanovec
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posted 02-07-2007 01:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have no reason to believe that Gagarin was flying drunk at the time of the accident. However, I also have no reason to believe any "facts" as they were told by the Soviet Union about the accident either. Having a hero/martyr was important than having the facts be revealed in the 1960s Soviet Union. Any revelation that might have tarnished Gagarin's hero status would, I believe, most certainly have been silenced.

*IF* Gagarin was flying while intoxicated, I would think that the word have come down from the government to investigators to either cover it up or just lie completely about the matter. Just because tissue samples were collected and analyzed doesn't mean their results were truthfully reported. And I don't see the investigators having ANY desire to contradict the wishes of the government in 1960s Soviet Union (would you?). If they don't like your answers, you could be quietly removed (to god knows where) and replaced with someone who gave the "right" answers.

I should reiterate that I have *NO* reason to suspect Gagarin was drunk... and don't believe he was. I just have a healthy suspicion of any "facts" (even ones disguised as "scientific facts") that came from the Soviet government in the 1960s... as should many people.

hinkler
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posted 02-07-2007 08:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for hinkler   Click Here to Email hinkler     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting thoughts but there are certain things we have to accept.

Gagarin was the first person to fly in space. Fact.

Gagarin was killed in a plane crash. Fact.

The wreckage is still in existence. Fact.

Not sure what could be determined from whatever remains are still available for study, but I am sure DNA testing could confirm whether the tissue samples (if still available) were from Gagarin and his instructor. If the source was confirmed, I'm sure the fact that there was no alcohol in the samples could be confirmed.

You have to consider that it is only in the past few years that it was confirmed that gagarin actually ejected from the Vostok Capsule and landed by parachute.

That is just the way the Russians were at the time. I don't think you can read anything terribly sinister into the way they did things then.

All times are CT (US)

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