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Soviet Steals Crop-Dusting Plane, Defects to Sweden

May 28, 1987

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ A Soviet farmhand seeking political asylum after stealing a crop-dusting plane and flying it to Sweden was in custody today, police said.

The Soviet Union accused the man, identified as Roman Svistonov, 24, of hijacking the aircraft and demanded that the Swedish government return both the pilot and the plane.

Svistonov stole the single-engine biplane from an airfield in the Soviet republic of Latvia and flew it toward the Swedish island of Gotland, about 100 miles to the west, police said Wednesday.

Svistonov ditched the plane, an AN-2 Colt, in the Baltic Sea 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 said Svistonov was from Nikolayev, a town near Odessa on the Black Sea.

The official Tass news agency issued a brief statement in Moscow today calling the action ″criminal″ and accusing Svistonov of hijacking the plane. The report said Soviet officials had appealed to Sweden to send Svistonov back.

″The Soviet side has appealed to Swedish authorities with a request that the criminal be returned, as well as the aircraft and the property contained on it,″ Tass said.

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 apparently had crashed by the time the warplanes reached the area.

The Gotland police chief said Svistonov told interrogators he 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 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 (airfield) gate. He told the guard that he was going to do some repairs on the plane,″ de Fine Licht said Wednesday.

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

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

The aircraft 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 came to Visby to see him.

Svistonov left a wife and two children in the Soviet Union but said 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.

Update hourly