On March 27, 1968, the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, died. He was in a MiG-15 on a routine training flight with his instructor when his plane crashed. The official explanation has been that he had to avoid a "foreign" object, but new information from Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov tells a different story.
Leonov was the first man to walk in space, and much later was also on the committee that investigated Gagarin's crash. Leonov has been trying to reveal the truth of what happened for over 20 years, and the information has only now been de-classified, prompting Leonov to explain the truth of what happened in an interview with Russia Today.
Of the official "foreign object" explanation — which could mean a goose, a hot air balloon, a squirrel in a home-made bark ultralight — Leonov says “That conclusion is believable to a civilian – not to a professional,” and reveals that the truth is that another fighter jet, a Sukhoi Su-15, flew much too close to Gagarin's MiG.
The issue was that the Su-15 was flying far lower than it was supposed to. As Leonov tells RT:
“We knew that a Su-15 was scheduled to be tested that day, but it was supposed to be flying at the altitude of 10,000 meters or higher, not 450-500 meters. It was a violation of the flight procedure.”
When the Su-15 flew so close to Gagarin's plane, the passage caused the MiG to go into an uncontrollable spin, similar to that scene in Top Gun I bet at least half of you are picturing right now. Leonov explains to Russia Today:
“While afterburning the aircraft reduced its echelon at a distance of 10-15 meters in the clouds, passing close to Gagarin, turning his plane and thus sending it into a tailspin – a deep spiral, to be precise – at a speed of 750 kilometers per hour,"
The involved and intense 40+ year cover up was mostly to hide that such a lapse in air-traffic logistics could have happened so close to Moscow and to someone so important. In fact, Gagarin was deemed too valuable a public relations tool to ever be sent into space again, especially after the death of Vladimir Komarov in Soyuz 1, a mission Gagarin himself felt was launched prematurely.
Gagarin had proven to be a PR handful after his flight, behaving in ways the Soviet leadership found problematic, such as diving out of a second-story window when his wife caught him with another woman. Because of the Soviets' desire to keep Gagarin as a pure propaganda tool, there has been much speculation that the accident that took his life was planned by the KGB, along with many other conspiracy theories.
The truth is more mundane, but no less tragic.
One of the conditions of finally allowing Leonov to reveal the truth is that the Su-15's pilot remains anonymous. As Leonov wisely points out,
I was asked not to disclose the pilot’s name. He is a good test pilot…It will fix nothing,”