A Story Not About A Hero

On September 6, 1976  news agencies reported sensational news: a pilot of the newest Russian fighter plane MiG-25 landed on Japanese island Khokkaido and asked for political asylum in the USA.

Americans used this chance to examine the  construction of the Russian fighter plane. After this Russia had to replace the electronic system of identification in all its military planes. Several years later Russian newspapers reported that MIG hijacker  was killed in a car crash, and many people  in Russia were satisfied that the person who committed treason was revenged. But in fact the hijacker was alive and doing well…

Victor Belenko  was born in the town of Naltchik in a family of workers, and finished school with distinction. He studied in a medical school for two years but then changed his mind and entered Air Force Military Academy in Armavir. After several years of service as a pilot and trainer  he was appointed in an air defense unit located near the city of Vladivostok. Senior lieutenant Belenko  had a successful career - being a deputy commander of an air squadron he was about to be appointed a captain.  He was trusted to operate the newest Russian interceptor-fighter plane MiG 25 P. His plane with the number 31 on its side was produced very recently - in February 1976.

Monday September 6, 1976 will always be the worst day for the pilots of his air group. On that day a team of MiGs took off from Chuguevka airport and practiced  aerobatics figures and interception of targets in air. Suddenly one of the planes shot upwards and then started falling towards the ocean. Then the plane disappeared from the radar screens. Victor's colleagues thought the plane lost the control and crashed. That evening Victor was аnnounced dead and the pilots started raising money for his wife and little son.

The very moment the plane disappeared from the screens the plane was flying towards Japan 50 meters over the ocean.  After reaching Khokkaido island the plane stopped hiding from locators, and two Japanese fighter planes took off to capture the stranger plane. Soon the hijacked MiG was in the southern part  of the island and began landing in Khakhodate passenger airport. Belenko hardly avoided collision with  the Japanese airlines Boeing which was taking off and therefore stopped 250 meters out of the runway area. MiG stopped very close to the massive radio antenna, the pilot would be killed and the plane destroyed after collision with it. The plane had fuel only for 30 seconds of flight, this means the pilot had no time for more carefully made landing.

After the authorities of the USSR understood the escape of Belenko could not be hidden from the public the Russian Foreign Ministry informed that the senior lieutenant lost his way and landed in Japan where he was injected drugs by force. The treasoner had a chance to return to his Motherland even after he applied for the political asylum in the USA. After the demand of the USSR the meeting Belenko with Soviet officials was arranged. Upon entering the room the employee of the Soviet Embassy in Japan, named Sadovnikov, said: "The Soviet government knows that you lost the way, were forced to land and injected drugs. I have come here to help you return home to your beloved wife and son!" Belenko interrupted him: "Stop carrying on propoganda to me. I arrived in Japan voluntarily". And then the "diplomat" who was a KGB officer publicly threatened the hijacker: "Traitor! We will find you anyway wherever you will be!" The story about the death of Belenko in a car crash could be invented by KGB to prevent other people from following the hijacker footsteps.

Russia could not get the escaped pilot  but his MiG 25 plane finally was returned to the country. However, before this the newest Soviet interceptor fighter plane was brought to the US Air Force military base located 80 kilometers from Tokyo. At the base the plane was carefully examined which helped Americans learn many military secrets. The plane was dismantled and brought to a Soviet boat in the located nearby port of Hitachi at night of October 12. MiG returned by Japan was brought to Latvia, city Daugavpils where a Soviet Air Force Academy was. The students used the plane for training. In the end of 80s the plane's period of operation expired, and it was brought to a special dump place. Local children and students tookpieces of the plane as souvenirs.

After obtaining political asylum in the USA with the help of the President политическое, Belenko got a good job - he taught an air fight technique   in a Military Academy for several years. He had a family with an American woman and three children.  Then he divorced  and granted his house to the  ex-wife, in accordance with the marriage agreement between them. In 1980 he made a good money after publishing the book "MiG Pilot" which he wrote  with writer John Barron. He traveled much as an American citizen and visited 68 countries. Currently he is living in California working in trade business with different countries, including Russia. However, in contacts with Russians he always introduces himself by  imaginary names.

The former senior lieutenant does not agree with criticism addressed to him and explain his hijacking action as a protest against the Soviet ideology. Meanwhile in his last interview to a popular American magazine Belenko confessed that most of all in the USA he was impressed  by … supermarkets. He told his first visit in a supermarket was watched by CIS people and at that moment he was thinking the store could be staged to impress him as an unusual visitor . The store was in a very beautiful huge building, had many goods and no lines of customers as in the USSR. Later the former pilot understood that the supermarket was real and enjoyed buying a variety of food. "It has always been a hard task in Russia to find tasty tinned goods. But in the USA I bought different tinned foods every day, and they were all very good. Once I bought a tin where was written Dinner and fried its content with potatoes, onions and garlic - it was delicious.  Next morning my friends told me that I had eaten tinned chicken for cats. But it was delicious! They were better than tinned foods for people which are produced in Russia even nowadays."

Such a confession demonstrate what kind of FREEDOM a Soviet young man Victor Belenko dreamt of secretly. To made it true he agreed to tolerate the totalitarian regime, and voluntarily joined the army of this regime he hated. He joined the party and pretended to be a Communist, although the party membership was obligatory only for officers higher in rank than him, starting with the rank of major. This is hardly compatible with the image of a man with ideals of freedom, who was supposed to be different from other Soviet citizens who could accept standing in lines for bad tinned foods.

Military intelligence and KGB worked hard researching the version that Viktor was recruited   by CIS  during his studying in the Academy or a vacation in a Holiday House in summer of 1976.  The proof of such recruitment has not been found. Meanwhile, Belenko had a chance to satisfy his love for good food without making a two billion damage to the country where he was born and raised. At a first sight there were no such possibility because only Jews-repatriates  could legally leave the USSR at that time. But in fact Belenko had a chance not to reveal the secrets of the newest MiG. He could crash the plane in the hills in a deserted area of Khokkaido and use the parachute to land. For such an action he could find a reasonable explanation - running out of time to find an airport because of fuel shortage.

The striving of the story character for "democratic ideals" can hardly be considered as a true reason of the plane hijacking. This reason can be figured out after recalling the promise to pay 100 thousand dollars to a person who would hijack the newest Russian MiG plane. This promise was made by Americans in the leaflets they distributed at the air bases in the Northern Vietnam. Americans had no other chance to obtain the plane but arranging hijacking of a plane  because Russian pilots were strictly forbidden to cross the front line during flying on their assignments. Thousands of Soviet pilots participated in the war in Vietnam which lasted 10 years and Belenko could receive from them the information about the rewarded promised by Americans.

This is all about the sad story of  a man who was not a hero...
PS. Victor Belenko was sentenced to a military execution by military collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR for treason (Article 64 of the Criminal Code of the USSR).

Dmitry Korobeinikov

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Author`s name Olga Savka