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The Crash of Soviet Battle Plane above Sea of Japan is Still Unveiled

Four members of the crew are still missing, their bodies were never found

The disaster that happened to the Kursk submarine and the events that followed it evoked the feeling of unexplainable melancholy in Andrey Prokhorov’s soul. He recollected the tragedy, which took place more than 20 years ago, but remained unveiled both to the public and to the relatives of those men, who died as a result of it.

Andrey Prokhorov used to serve the chief assistant of the personnel department of the Chelyabinsk military aviation school. This was the position that Andrey took during the time, when a horrible tragedy happened in the USSR. A Soviet battle plane crashed not far from the Japanese coastline. No one of seven crewmembers managed to survive the crash. However, it should be mentioned here that the bodies of four pilots were never found, so those people are regarded as missing. No one knew, what happened to them – whether they drowned in the sea or survived the crash and moved over to another country. There was a student of the mentioned military aviation amid those missing military men.

Time has erased a lot of details: names, the date and the exact spot, where the tragedy took place. However, Andrey Prokhorov still remembers that the student’s name was Dmitry and that he came from the town of Yuzhnouralsk. Yet, the archive of the school does not have anything of the crash.

The town of Yuzhnouralsk is considered to be the town of power engineering and aviation specialists in Russia. The town is located not far from the Uprun airbase. Reporters did not manage to obtain any information from former chiefs of aviation troops and their colleagues. They all said that they either never heard of the tragedy or were not in the military during the period, when the crash happened. However, the problem was solved in a very easy way. Natalia Kanina, the secretary of the municipal council, called to the military committee of the town and asked to dig something up in archives and documents. Viktor Kovach, an employee of the military committee managed to find out that the student’s name was not Dmitry, but Sergey Dmitriyev. Viktor Kovach also said that Sergey was born in 1957; he gave the number of the school that he studied in and even his parents’ home address. A little bit of further research cast all doubts aside: Sergey Dmitriyev was that student named Dmitry, who Andrey Prokhorov remembered.

Reporters from the newspaper Chelyabinsk Worker went to meet Sergey’s parents. Lydia and Vladimir, Sergey’s mother and father, were rather confused with reporters’ visit. Yet, the conversation started in ten minutes. They showed their family albums: Sergey was depicted on those photographs wearing the uniform of an officer. The picture was taken at the time, when he was a senior student of the school. At that time of his life the young man was about to start his new life.

Sergey’s mother Lydia said: “He always wanted to become a pilot, he had that wish when he was a little boy. He dreamed to fly. When he had practical classes at school, he flew above our grandmother’s house. He had only one practice at Uprun airbase. Later he had to go to the Primorye region, where he was supposed to serve after school. When he arrived there, he wrote in a letter that he loved the new place, the nature. He asked us to send him some fishing-tackle. But it was too late for us to do that.”

The tragedy happened in a mysterious way, as if it was caused with some mysticism. Sergey was not supposed to fly on that plane. The command decided to change the crews for some reason. It was the afternoon of June 27th, 1980. Two Tupolev planes were flying 70 kilometers off the island of Sado, above the Sea of Japan. The sky was cloudy. Japanese battle ships could be seen on the surface of the ocean down below. The captain of one of the two planes suddenly saw a bright flashlight in the sky. Then he saw that the other Tupolev plane was spinning down without a wing. The plane fell down in the water, A Japanese ship started approaching it. Sergey’s parents did not believe official documents. They did not believe what the military command say about the crash either. The official conclusion about the tragedy differed from what military men said.

“No one told us the real reason of the crash. We were told that it was a military exercise, a flight around the sea border. Then they said that a breakdown occurred on board the plane, and that was all. Pilots said other things unofficially. They said that there was a group of American vessels in the neutral waters of the Sea of Japan. Soviet planes accompanied the group, but then lost it, so it was ordered for two Tupolev planes to take off and to detect American ships. Someone even said that the Soviet plane was downed with a missile. We do not know, what actually happened. They concealed the truth from us,” Sergey’s mother Lydia said.

Lydia showed the death certificate that she received after the air crash. The certificate ran that Sergey Dmitriyev died on June 27, 1980 at the age of 23. As it was said, the young man died as a result of the air crash in the Sea of Japan. That was it – as if it was about a civil person, who was flying in a passenger jetliner with tourists. They thought a lot at the defense department, what to say to Sergey’s parents about their son’s death. This is what they had to say. To crown it all, the death certificate was issued eight months after the tragedy – it arrived in the mailbox as a usual letter or a greeting card. So many years have passed since that time, but the pain remains the same. Sergey’s parents do not really care about officials’ indifference or state secrets. Although, the death certificate does not allow two elderly people to have any benefits for the lost son. The young man died on his duty, the crash happened under military conditions, in a tough opposition with the real enemy. That-era situation was absolutely different, it was far from being ideal. Unfortunately, student Sergey Dmitriyev is still the hostage of that situation.

There were three dead bodies found on the spot of the crash, they were picked up by Japanese soldiers. All of them were buried in the places, from where they came from. Other four members of the crew are still considered to be missing. Their bodies have not been found. However, military men said that they were saved by Japanese sailors. Conversations with spokespeople for the special department of the military garrison made Sergey’s parents doubt of their son’s death even more. They started thinking that he either escaped or was taken a captive. The parents were very depressed with what happened to their child, although they still had a hope. Sergey’s mother Lydia still hopes for a miracle to happen.

“Sergey’s grandmother was a gifted woman, she was a fortuneteller. She died five years ago. She kept saying that Sergey did not die. She was certain that he lived somewhere very far from us. She did not let us mourn our son, so we didn’t. After the tragedy I discovered amazing capabilities in myself. I started calling for my son in my mind. I had a vision of him wearing a brown suit and a blue shirt. I asked where he was staying and he answered me that he was living in France. He said that he had a Russian wife and two children. I had that gift for two years, and then it was gone. After Sergey passed away, I fell ill and I had an operation on. My other son Aleksey came to visit me. I hugged him and told him not to become a pilot like his brother. Probably I did that wrong, but Aleksey works as a fireman now. He never reproached him for breaking his career of a pilot.”

Anatoly Letyagin
Chelyabinsk Worker


Translated by Dmitry Sudakov