Early warning radar stations detected the object at around 1300 UTC+07:00. Unsealed records confirm the Soviet Air Defence Forces (PVO, after their acronym in Russian) command and control had flagged the object by 1302, a reflection of their high state of alert at the time.

An urgent scramble order was sent to the 18th Air Defense Army stationed at Box 39183, a closed city northeast of Norilsk, at 1321. Equipped with the latest Sukhoi SU-9 interceptors, pilots of the PVO were airborne by 1338. Interception of the object was acieved near Cape Chelyuskin moments later.

A full transcript of the pilots’ radio chatter was produced and later redacted at the direct request of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet a month after the incident. It continues to be unavailable in the archives, but references and paraphrases in other documents offer some clarity.

Despite being guided by ground-based radar, the SU-9s were unable to engage the target, unable to confirm it visually despite clear skies, and unable to target it with either missiles or gun pods. In fact, the SU-9s expended all of their available missiles and emptied their gun pods without ever scoring a hit or even achieving visual confirmation.

A second group of interceptors, from another base, was scheduled to arrive on station and attempt to engage the object, with the SU-9s already in the air landing to refuel. Around this time, contact was lost with both the object and the interceptors on radar.

Arriving on station about 5 minutes later, the new wave of SU-9s failed to find any sign of the object or of the flight of five planes that had attempted to interdict it.

An official report, partially redacted but later made available in archives, indicates that a large-scale search was carried out in the following weeks. Debris from the fired missiles was identified on the ground, but nothing from the planes or the object they had attempted to intercept was ever located.

The vanished airmen were written off as dead in training accidents and all information about them was suppressed. Their families were given a pension but instructed not to speak of the departed under penalty of imprisonment for revealing state secrets; at least one cousin of a pilot was processed through the Soviet prison system under such a charge before 1982.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!