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|Mathias Rust's Cessna 172, resting in Red Square some time after his landing|
Mathias Rust (born July 1968 in Wedel, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany) is a German aviator known for his illegal landing on May 28, 1987 near Red Square in Moscow. As an amateur pilot, he flew from Finland to Moscow, being tracked several times by Soviet air defence and interceptors. The Soviet fighters never received permission to shoot him down, and several times he was mistaken for a friendly aircraft. He landed on Vasilevski Spusk next to Red Square near the Kremlin in the capital of the USSR.
Rust's intentions, as he stated, were to create an "imaginary bridge" to the East, and he has claimed that his flight was intended to reduce tension and suspicion between the two Cold War sides. Rust's successful flight through a supposedly impregnable air defense system had a great impact on the Soviet military and led to the firing of many senior officers, including Defence Minister Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei Sokolov and the head of the Soviet Air Defense, former WWII fighter ace pilot Chief Marshal Alexander Koldunov. The incident aided Mikhail Gorbachev in the implementation of his reforms (by removing numerous military officials opposed to him), and reduced the prestige of the Soviet military among the population, thus helping bring an end to the Cold War.
Prior to his flight, Rust was an inexperienced pilot, aged 18, and with about 50 hours of flying experience. On May 13, 1987, Rust left Uetersen near Hamburg and his home town Wedel in his rented Reims Cessna F172P D-ECJB, which was modified by removing some of the seats and replacing them with auxiliary fuel tanks. He spent the next two weeks traveling across Northern Europe, visiting the Faroe islands, spending a week in Iceland, and then visiting Bergen on his way back. He was later quoted as saying that he had the idea of the attempt to reach Moscow even before the departure, and he saw the trip to Iceland (where he visited Hofdi House, the site of unsuccessful talks between the United States and the Soviet Union in October 1986) as a way to test his piloting skills.
In the morning of May 28, 1987, Rust refueled at Helsinki-Malmi Airport. He told air traffic control that he was going to Stockholm, but right after his final communication with traffic control he turned his plane to the east. Air traffic controllers tried to contact him as he was moving around the busy Helsinki–Moscow route, but Rust turned off all communications equipment aboard.
Rust disappeared from the Finnish air traffic control radar near Sipoo. Air traffic control presumed an emergency, and a rescue effort was organized, including a Finnish Border Guard patrol boat. They found an oil patch near the place where Rust disappeared from radar and performed an underwater search with no results. Rust was later fined about US$100,000 for this effort. The origin of the oil patch remains unknown.
In the meantime, Rust crossed the Baltic coastline in Estonia and turned towards Moscow. At 14:29 he appeared on air defense radar and, after failure to reply to an IFF signal, was assigned combat number 8255. Three SAM divisions tracked him for some time, but failed to obtain permission to launch at him. All air defenses were brought to readiness and two interceptors were sent to investigate. At 14:48 near the city of Gdov one of the pilots observed a white sport plane similar to a Yakovlev Yak-12 and asked for permission to engage, but was denied.
Soon after, the fighters lost contact with Rust, and while they were directed back to him, he disappeared from radar near Staraya Russa. The then-West German magazine Bunte speculated that he might have landed there for some time, citing that he changed his clothes somewhere during his flight, and that he took too much time to fly to Moscow considering his plane's speed and weather conditions.
Air defense re-established contact with Rust's plane several times, but confusion followed all of these events. The PVO system had shortly before been divided into several districts, which simplified management but created additional overhead for tracking officers at the districts' borders. The local air regiment near Pskov was on maneuvers, and, due to inexperienced pilots' tendency to forget correct IFF designator settings, local control officers assigned all traffic in the area friendly status, including Rust.
Near Torzhok there was a similar situation, as increased air traffic was created by a rescue effort for an air crash that had happened the previous day. Rust, flying a slow propeller-driven aircraft, was confused with one of the helicopters taking part in the rescue. Afterwards, he was spotted several more times, but given false friendly recognition twice; he was considered as a domestic training plane defying regulations, and was issued least priority.
Around 7:00 p.m. Rust appeared above Moscow's center. He had initially intended to land in the Kremlin, but changed his mind: he reasoned that landing inside, hidden by the Kremlin walls, would have allowed the KGB to simply arrest him and deny the incident. Therefore, he changed his landing spot to Red Square. Heavy pedestrian traffic did not allow him to land there either, so after circling about the square one more time, he was able to land on a bridge by St. Basil's Cathedral. A later inquiry found that numerous wires normally strung over the bridge – which would have incidentally prevented his landing there – had been removed for maintenance that very morning, and were replaced the day after. After taxiing past the cathedral he stopped about 100 meters from the square, where he was greeted by curious passersby. He was arrested afterwards.
Rust's trial started in Moscow on September 2, 1987. He was sentenced to four years in a general-regime labor camp for hooliganism, disregard of aviation laws and breaching of the Soviet border. However, he was never transferred to a labor camp and instead served his time at the high security Lefortovo temporary detention facility in Moscow. Two months after Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to sign a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, the Supreme Soviet ordered Rust released as a goodwill gesture to the west. He returned to West Germany on 3 August 1988.
William E. Odom, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military, says that Rust’s flight irreparably damaged the reputation of the Soviet military. This enabled Gorbachev to remove many of the strongest opponents to his reforms. The defense minister Sergei Sokolov and the air defense chief Alexander Koldunov were fired along with hundreds of other officers. This was the biggest turnover in the Soviet military since Stalin’s purges fifty years earlier.
In 2008 Rust's rented Reims Cessna F172P, D-ECJB, was returned to Germany from where it had turned up in Japan and was placed in the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin.
While doing his obligatory community service (Zivildienst) in a West German hospital in 1989, Rust stabbed a female co-worker who had rejected him. The injuries were life-threatening and he was sentenced to four years in prison for attempted manslaughter and was released after having served fifteen months.
In 1996, he became engaged to a daughter of an Indian tea merchant and converted to Hinduism. In 2001, he was convicted for stealing a cashmere pullover and ordered to pay DM 10,000; the sentence was later reduced to 600 marks. In 2005, he was convicted of fraud and had to pay €1,500 for stolen goods. In 2009 Rust described himself as a professional poker player.
Because Rust's flight seemed to be a blow to the authority of the Soviet regime, it was the source of numerous jokes and urban legends.
Very soon after the incident, SubLogic, the original publishers of the Flight Simulator franchise, issued a scenery disk that expanded the original program's coverage area to include Eastern Europe. A challenge in the program was to land in Red Square as Rust had just done.
The American band Wampeters included a song on their Hey Judas CD that celebrates Rust as a "hero or a scourge."
Estonian President Lennart Meri named his wolfhound in honor of Rust.
The final track of the 2004 album La Increíble Aventura by Spanish band Migala is called "Lecciones de Vuelo con Mathias Rust" ("Flying Lessons With Mathias Rust").
The 2008 Norwegian film The Man Who Loved Yngve features the fictional punk rock Mathias Rust Band, headed by the character Jarle Klepp. The band is actually composed of songwriters John Erik Kaada and Geir Zahl from Kaizers Orchestra, along with the screenwriter and author of the novel the film is based on, Tore Renberg.
Following the 20th anniversary of his flight on 28 May 2007, the international media interviewed Rust about the flight and its aftermath.
The Washington Post and Bild both have online editions of their interviews. The most comprehensive video interview online is produced by The Danish Broadcasting Corporation. In their interview Rust in Red Square, recorded in May 2007, Rust gives a full account of the flight in English.