In 1937, the famed Soviet pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky took charge of what was intended to be the first cargo-passenger flight over the North Pole from Moscow to Fairbanks, Alaska. The distance was enormous, and experts thought that a full year of preparation would be needed. In a bid to impress Stalin, the officials in charge decided to do it in three months. The risks were so obvious that the aircraft’s radio officer even joked that the crew members were flying to their deaths. Unsurprisingly, something went wrong, and the man known to the American press as “the Russian Lindbergh” disappeared along with his six-man crew. During takeoff, the far-right engine was clearly emitting smoke, but engineers on the ground predicted it would soon stop. Nineteen hours later, a radio message was received: “The far-right engine has quit due to a problem with the oil system. Entering overcast skies. Elevation 4,600 meters. Will attempt a landing.” Russian, Canadian, and American rescue teams combed the Arctic, but no trace of the aircraft could be found.
Over the years, there have been various theories about the final resting place of Levanevsky and his crew. The most plausible involves a radio operator from Point Barrow, Alaska, who was told local Inuit had witnessed an aircraft crash into the water near the Jones Islands. A visiting schooner attempted a search of the area, with the crew noting that their compass needle was pointing straight down at one point. However, no wreckage could be found and the search had to be called off due to ice. A report was sent to Moscow, but it was quickly forgotten about after World War II broke out. Another theory suggests that there was a navigational error when the flight crossed the North Pole and was forced to descend below cloud level. Unbeknownst to the crew, they ended up making an accidental 80-degree turn, headed back into the Soviet Union, and crashed into Siberia’s Lake Sebyan-Kyuyel. A magnetic anomoly was apparently detected in the depths of the lake, but no more evidence could be found and the theory largely ran out of steam in the late ’90s.
Perhaps the most bizarre theory is that Levanevsky was forced to land on an ice floe, where he was rescued by a German submarine. He then supposedly offered his services to the Luftwaffe, even participating in the bombing of Moscow.
Kemo D. 7