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Soviet Steals Crop-dusting Plane, Defects to Sweden

May 27, 1987

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ A Soviet farm hand stole a crop-dusting plane to defect to the West Wednesday, ditched the aircraft into the Baltic Sea near a Swedish island and waded ashore, police said.

Uno de Fine Licht, the chief of police in Visby on the island of Gotland, said the Russian asked for asylum and was being held in custody.

He identified him as Roman Svistonov, 24, from Nikolayev, a town near Odessa on the Black Sea.

Svistonov stole the single-engine biplane, an AN-2 Colt, from an airfield in the Soviet republic of Latvia, about 100 miles west of Gotland, de Fine Licht said when reached by telephone.

Defense Ministry spokesman H.G. Wessberg said Swedish jetfighters were scrambled to investigate when the low-flying plane was picked up on radar. But the plane had apparently crashed by the time the warplanes reached the area.

The Gotland police chief said Svistonov told interrogators that he had planned his escape from the Soviet Union for ″a long time,″ although his reasons were still unclear.

He said Svistonov was a trained pilot but had left his job to work as a laborer on a state collective farm. Two weeks ago Svistonov went to Latvia to visit a friend, also a pilot.

″Early this morning, around 4 a.m., there was only one guard at the gate. He told the guard that he was going to do some repairs on the plane,″ de Fine Licht said.

The guard realized he had been fooled when he heard the motor start up and saw that the plane appeared to be readying for takeoff, the police official said.

Svistonov ″saw the guard raise his weapon,″ but the defector didn’t believe the guard fired, de Fine Licht said.

The aircraft, a crop-duster, was running out of gasoline as it approached Gotland, Sweden’s largest island. De Fine Licht said Svistonov ditched the plane in shallow water when he couldn’t find a place to land and waded about 10 yards to shore.

He said the defector refused to see a Soviet Embassy official who had come to Visby to see him.

Svistonov left a wife and two children in the Soviet Union, but he had not been living with them recently.

The police chief said the defector would be held in custody ″for a few days″ until it was decided what to do with him. In similar cases in the past, defectors have been granted asylum.

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