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28.5.1987: Landing on the Red Square
A small white, Cessna plane that was making a loud humming noise with an easily recognizable German D sign was circling the roofs and walls of the Kremlin at a very low level, obviously searching for a place to land. It was 7:30 p.m. on May 28th. It was still bright and the weather was pleasant. There were a lot of people on the Red Square. More than 300 tourists and locals strolled around the grounds, enjoying the end of the day. The Guard of Honor at Lenin’s Mausoleum Palace waited for the change of guard that always came with their goose step march on the hour.

They could not believe their eyes. One eye witness reported that the low flying plane suddenly flew right over their heads before landing. The pedestrians scattered in all directions. The small plane finally found a place to land between the cathedral of St. Basil and the Kremlin wall. The bold pilot had selected the risen cobbled paving for his landing.

The crowd was enormous. After a few minutes, a young, slim man in a red sweater and sunglasses got out of the plane. He was quickly surrounded by passers-by. He told the astonished crowd that he was a German, but that he had just flown over from Helsinki and gave people his autograph.

Dumbstruck militiamen just grinned -- and did not intervene. It only became more serious once higher-ranking police officers in black limousines and lorries with barriers arrived on the scene. The German sign was painted over the plane for all to see, the daring pilot was led away.

The incident was unbelievable. Mathias Rust, an 18-year-old from the northern German town of Wedel, had violated Soviet air space without being hindered and had even flown into the prohibited Moscow airspace without being questioned, circled the Red Square three times and landed.

Rumors abounded. Was this the provocative work of an opponent of Gorbachev? How could the young pilot bypass the Soviet radar stations from Helsinki and not be noticed?

The public display of displeasure by the Soviet Union’s political spokesmen concerning the lack of the necessary vigilance and major lapses in the leadership of the armed forces and ministry of defence came as no surprise. Gorbachev had already criticized the state of the army upon his appointment to office.

The conclusions were quickly drawn. Gorbachev and the other Soviet leaders were not able to come to terms with Rust's long approach and skillful landing. The young man's escapade caused a few heads to roll: The head of air defence Koldunov and minister of defence Sukolov were immediately dismissed.

However, Gorbachev was lenient towards the intruder from the West. Rust gained admirers from both the East and the West. The young amateur pilot stated that he had wanted to promote world peace through his flight. He claimed to have used his holiday trip to Scandinavia to visit Gorbachev and to talk to him about peace.

Experts from all over the world described the flight as a masterly performance that also revealed the Soviet air defence’s frailties. The young man was seen as only having harmless motives. Yet the Moscow judges who sentenced him to four years imprisonment were not influenced by these views.

However, the now famous Kremlin pilot did not need to serve the sentence after a number of diplomatic interventions. He was released after just a year, sold his story to high circulation magazines and pocketed six figure sums.

Two years later, Rust hit the headlines once again. In November 1989, he stabbed a trainee nurse because she did not want to kiss him. In the subsequent court proceedings, the consultants referred to the very disturbed and complicated inner psyche of Rust, who evidently viewed his Moscow mission as the greatest success in his life and could not bear to be rejected. The Kremlin pilot was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment for the stabbing.
   
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What landed on Red Square in Moscow on 28 May 1987?
  A German Cessna
  A Chinese jumbo jet
  An Italian helicopter
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