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Francis Gary Powers: The final, doomed flight
to Los Angeles of a storied U-2 pilot

October 20, 2009 |  4:38 pm

Powers photo While employed as a U-2 spy plane pilot for the CIA, Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, causing an international furor. He was freed in exchange for a Soviet spy, a trade negotiated by Milan C. "Mike" Miskovsky, a former CIA lawyer who died Oct. 15 at 83.

There’s a tragic Los Angeles connection to the story: Powers, who had risked his life in high-altitude flights over the Soviet Union and served nearly two years for espionage, was killed in an Aug. 1, 1977, helicopter crash in Encino while working as a “Telecopter” reporter for KNBC (Channel 4). He was 47.

Powers and a KNBC cameraman, 43-year-old  George Spears, were returning from covering brushfires north of Santa Barbara when the helicopter Powers was piloting crashed into an open field near the Sepulveda Dam, carving a 21-foot-long gouge in the ground and killing both men. 

According to Times’ archives, Powers was a “conservative flier” who, on his final flight, ran out of fuel.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Francis Gary Powers in an undated photo taken when he was a U.S. Air Force pilot. Credit: Associated Press