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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Remember Gagarin's Death




Russian space veterans gathered Friday on Red Square to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of cosmonaut Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, even as new theories about the mysterious plane crash that took his life continue to surface.


Dozens of Gagarin's friends and colleagues laid flowers and wreaths at his Kremlin wall grave and then went to a forested area near the town of Kirzhach where Gagarin's plane crashed March 27, 1968.


The crew of Russia's orbiting Mir space station also took a few moments to mark the anniversary with a special television link-up with ground control to mourn their late colleague who shocked the world April 12, 1961, when he rode his cramped Vostok space capsule into the history books, becoming the first man in space.


Seven years later, Gagarin perished in a baffling plane crash that still has aviation experts and the Russian public guessing.Minutes after taking off from the Chkalovsky air force base near Moscow, Gagarin's two-seat MiG-15 UTI trainer spiraled down from 4,000 meters, crashing into the ground and killing both the cosmonaut and flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin.


The crash, and the ambiguity of the findings of the special committee charged with investigating it, have long fueled speculation and wild rumors about what caused it, including the tale that Gagarin and Seryogin were suffering hangovers on the fatal flight.


According to a theory postulated in the weekly newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta this week, Gagarin was the victim of sabotage. The paper theorized that the crash could have been planned by officials within the Soviet defense industry who were upset with Gagarin's claims that inferior design of the Soyuz-1 spacecraft's landing capsule killed fellow cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov on April 24, 1967, and who feared that he would inform Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev of his suspicions.


But Lieutenant General Sergei Belotserkovsky, a professor who lectured Gagarin at Moscow's Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and participated in the official probe into Gagarin's death, said recently the crash was caused by poor flight control and inferior equipment.


The official commission, set up hours after the crash, ignored Belotserkovsky's findings at the time and claimed in its final report that it had found no clear cause for the crash.