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The Risk

U-2 Spy plane driver wrong-pockets a cyanide pill

Submitted by Leonidas » Wed 12-Feb-2014, 11:53

Subject Area: Combat

Keywords: skunkworks, u2, cyanide

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The US commenced U-2 spy flights over Russia in 1956. The U-2 was an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft designed to operate above 70,000 feet. Although U-2 aircraft were visible to Russian radar the probability of being shot down was non-existent at that time as Russian missiles and fighter aircraft could not operate at that altitude. The major threat was from an engine flameout at high altitude. All pilots therefore carried a cyanide pill should they wish to avoid capture and torture by the KGB. Use of the pill was optional.
Approaching Moscow at 73,000 feet, Carmen Vito had a close call. The ground crew had put his cyanide pill in the wrong pocket: the right breast pocket of his coveralls. It was supposed to be in an inside pocket. Unknowingly Vito had dropped a fist full of lemon-flavoured cough drops in the same pocket as the pill. As Moscow loomed in his drift site Vito felt his throat go dry. Who can blame him? This was his first flight. So he reached into his pocket for a cough drop, grabbed the cyanide pill, popped it into his mouth and began to suck on it. He quickly realised his mistake and spat it out. Had he bit down he would have died instantly and crashed right into Red Square. Imagine the furore. Recovering from that would have made the Edward Snowden fallout look like a minor issue.
Source: Skunkworks, Ben Rich.


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