Francis Gary Powers

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Francis Gary Powers (1929–1977) was an American pilot who flew for the CIA. He became famous as the pilot of a U-2 spy plane that was shot down on a secret flight out of Peshawar, Pakistan over the Soviet Union. He soon was captured by the KGB. The discovery of the mission during one of the tensest periods of the Cold War sparked a crisis between the superpowers on May 1, 1960. Although the U.S. tried to deny that Powers' mission was one of espionage, the USSR nevertheless sentenced him to hard labor. After nearly two years he was exchanged for Colonel Rudolph Abel and brought back to the United States.

Powers was criticized for failing to destroy his camera, its film, and classified parts prior to capture, all of which were recovered nearly intact by the KGB. The circumstances surrounding his crash and survival were also questioned, because a U-2 plane was supposed to fly at very high altitudes from which they are difficult to shoot down. However, a congressional investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. Powers was also criticized for not taking a suicide pill; however, he had been under no compulsion to do so.

In 1977 Powers was killed in a helicopter crash while working for a Los Angeles television station. In 2000, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, National Defense Service Medal, and Prisoner of War Medal.