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Francis Gary Powers's Death

Francis Gary Powers

The life and death of Francis Gary Powers:

He gained notoriety and created an international when his spy plane went down over the Soviet Union. Ironically, his life ended several years later when a helicopter he was flying for a TV news outlet in Los Angeles crashed.

Francis Gary Powers was born in Jenkins, Kentucky. Commonly known as Gary, he was the son of a coalminer named Oliver and his mother's maiden name was named Ida Melinda Ford.

Gary grew up in Virginia at a town called Pound, the second of six children and the only boy. Although his father wanted him to become a doctor so that he could make some money, when Gary graduated from Milligan College in 1950 he became a second lieutenant in the U.S .Air Force, and was recruited by the Central intelligence Agency for his standout ability with single engine jets. Powers left the Air Force in 1956 with the rank of captain then joined the CIA to fly spy missions.

Gary joined the CIA's U2 program, flying a plane they could reach altitudes of 70,000 feet.

Francis Gary Powers when he was with the CIA

It was believed that kept it safe from Soviet Union's anti-aircraft weapons of the time. U2 planes photographed military installations and other important sites over the U.S.S.R.

However, by 1960 the Soviets upped their game and when Powers departed from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan in a U2; he was shot down with a surface to air missile over Sverdlovsk. Powers was unable to self-destruct as ordered before bailing out and he was captured, paraded before the media and imprisoned.

Francis Gary Powers when he was a captured prisoner in the U.S.S.R.

The U2 incident led to diplomatic conflict between the US and Soviet Union and Powers was held in a prison east of Moscow.

But in February, 1962 Powers was exchanged - along with an American student named Frederick Pryor -in a spy swap for KGB agent Rudolph Able - who been caught by the FBI and jailed in the U.S. for espionage.

Francis Gary Powers and Rudolph Able

At first Powers received a very cold reception when he got home, criticized for not self-destructing or destroyed the camera and photographic film.

But after Senate hearings it was found the Powers and followed his orders not to reveal any critical information to the Soviets and that he conducted himself properly.

Resuming his civilian life, Powers then worked as a test pilot for Lockheed from 1963 to 1970.

And then he joined the media, becoming a traffic reporter for radio station KGIL in Los Angeles…

Francis Gary Powers working for KGIL in Los Angeles

…and was later hired by local TV station KNBC to be the pilot of their "telecopter", a chopper equipped with 360° cameras.

Francis Gary Powers working for KNBC

On August 1, 1977, Powers was out on a story covering brushfires in Santa Barbara County and was heading back when his Bell 206 Jet Ranger copter ran out of fuel and crashed short of his planned landing site

Francis Gary Powers plane crash

He died instantly.

Powers was survived by his wife, Claudia "Sue" Powers…

Francis Gary Powers and wife

…their two children, Dee and Francis Gary Powers Jr., and five sisters.

He's buried at Arlington National Cemetery as an Air Force veteran.

Francis Gary Powers grave

Power's life was dramatized in the TV movie "Francis Gary Powers" in 1976. Lee Majors. And the Powers-Abel spy swap was dramatized in the 2015 movie "Bridge Of Spies", with Tom Hanks starring as U.S. negotiator James Donovan.

Bridge Of Spies