Soviets Issue First Report of Accident 25 Years Ago
MOSCOW (AP) _ The Soviet government has for the first time publicly acknowledged that three weeks before the first manned space shot a young cosmonaut died in a training accident.
The government newspaper Izvestia said last week that 24-year-old Valentin V. Bondarenko died on March 23, 1961, when he accidentally set fire to the decompression chamber in which he was living as part of an isolation test at the Star City Space Center.
Izvestia published five articles on the Soviet space program last week in commemoration of Yuri Gagarin’s historic first space flight on April 12, 1961. Other celebrations of the flight’s 25th anniversary are planned this week, including a news conference Monday with two Soviet cosmonauts aboard the Mir space station.
An Izvestia article headlined ″Slander″ attempted to discredit Western news reports during the past 25 years that have claimed as many as eight Soviet cosmonauts died in training accidents prior to Gagarin’s flight.
Soviet news media have reported the deaths of four cosmonauts in previous space accidents - Vladimir Komarov in 1967 and three spacemen in 1971, but few details of the re-entry disasters were provided.
Gagarin died in a plane crash in March 1968.
″Not a single Soviet cosmonaut took part in suborbital flights before Yuri Gagarin,″ Izvestia said Wednesday. ″No one was flying in space, and that is why no one could have died there.″
Izvestia then noted that Bondarenko died three weeks before the first manned space shot, ″not in space, but on Earth.″
He was completing a 10-day test in a decompression chamber when he reportedly threw away a cotton ball soaked in alcohol, the newspaper said. ″It fell on a red-hot element of the electric heater, and in the oxygen- saturated atmosphere, the flame instantly spread throughout the small chamber.″
Bondarenko was conscious when rescuers removed him from the chamber and kept repeating, ″I’m guilty myself. Do not blame anyone else,″ the newspaper said.
The cosmonaut died hours later from shock, Izvestia said.
The newspaper said Bondarenko was the youngest of the Soviet cosmonauts training at that time. He left a wife and a 5-year-old son, Alexander, who is now an army officer.