Francis Gary Powers, 47, who was shot down in a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in 1960, touching off a stormy international incident was killed yesterday in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles area.
Powers, whose controversial and ill-fated photographic reconnaissance mission was made as a contract employee of the CIA, was working yesterday at his most recent job - pilot and reporter for Los Angeles television station KNBC. He had been engaged in similar work since 1971.
The helicopter crashed in an empty Little League baseball field in Encino after Mr. Powers and a cameraman were returning from Santa Barbara, where they had taken aerial views of brush fires.
The cause of the crash, in which the cameraman was also killed, was not immediately known. According to one account, Mr. Powers was attempting to make an emergency landing after running low on fuel. A witness said the helicopter's tail rotor broke off as the craft was falling to the ground.
On the morning of May 1, 1960, Mr. Powers took off from Peshawar, Pakistan, and headed his slim, high-altitude jet plane across the Soviet Union towards Norway, on a flight that was to change the course of history.
He had reached a point about 30 miles southeast of Sverdlovsk, when he felt an explosion.
"Everywhere I looked was orange," he later recalled.
His plane began to come apart. It went into a violent spin. After parachuting safely to the ground! Mr. Powers was taken into custody by the Soviets. They trumpeted the incident to the world, and the effect was stunning.
When President Eisenhower appears in Paris for a May 16 summitt conference. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev used the incident in an unprecedented series of angry outbursts, which led to the collapse of the conference.
In the United States, intelligence and defense experts were apparently thrown into confusion. It had been believed that the U-2, flying at altitudes above 50,000 feet was all but invulnerable to Soviet air defenses.
By bringing it down, the Soviet apparently forced U.S. defense planners to reconsider the relative value of manned bombers, on the one hand, and missiles on the other.
In addition, the U-2 incident tore the curtain of secrecy from a sophisticated, imaginative, and, apparently, previously successful intelligence operation, raising numerous questions.
One question was whether Powers' fateful flight should have been scheduled so close to the scheduled summit conference, in which high hopes had been invested.
Government reaction to Soviet claims about the downing of Mr. Powers' plane was also questioned. First it was claimed that Mr. Powers was on a weather study mission. Then it was acknowledged he was on a reconnaissance flight.
On May 11, President Eisenhower issued a statement taking full responsibility for the U-2.
There was subsequent speculation as to whether a different treatment of the matter by the U.S. government might have kept open the possibility of personal diplomacy between the President and Khrushchev.
In addition to its national and international repercussions, the downing of the U-2 changed the life of Mr. Powers, a quiet, unassuming man who seemed ill-suited to the role of international superspy.
Indeed, on his return from the Soviet Union, he described himself on more than one occasion as "a normal guy who did a job."
As it was, however, Mr. Powers' conduct and statements from the time his airplane was hit through the time of his trial in Russia on charges of espionage became subjects of major controversy here.
It was suggested by some that rather than summit to interrogation by the Soviets, he should have used the poison needle with which he was equipped.
Critics also suggested that he might have remained silent under interrogation, and that he ought not to have pleaded guilty to espionage charges at his August 1960 trial.
Mr. Powers, was given a sentence of three years in prison and seven years in a prison colony. In February, 1962, after several weeks of secret negotiations, he was released in exchange for convicted Soviet spy Rodolf Abel, who was serving a 30-year sentence here.
A CIA report issued after Mr. Powers' released concluded that he had complied with his contract and with his "obligations as an American" during his ordeal in the Soviet Union.
According to the report, U-2 pilots were hired as fliers, not espionage agents, and were instructed that if captured they should be "cooperative within limits." They were not to subject themselves to strenuous hostile interrogation, the report said!
Nor, the report said, were U-2 pilots instructed or expected to commit suicide unless tortured.
Mr. Powers believed that the damage to his personal life caused by the early doubts and questions was difficult to repair.
He continued working for the CIA for a time after his return, then joined the Lockhead Aircraft Corp., testing U-2s for a brief period before being laid off.
In 1963 he was divorced from his wife, Barbara. He later remarried.
For a time, he said, he could find no work, and once told a talk show host that "I'm thinking of going to the unemployment office to see if they need an experienced U-2 pilot.
A former Air Force flier, Powers reportedly said he had an agreement with the Air Force under which he would be taken back after his CIA service. He said the Air Force reneged on the agreement.
In 1970 he wrote an account of the U-2 incident called "Operation Overflight." A television movie based on his experiences was broadcast alst year.
He became a flying reporter in 1971 for radio station KGIL in Los Angeles, starting work as a vacation replacement, flying a Cessna light plane over the freeways and describing traffic conditions.
He and his second wife Claudia, lived in Sherman Oaks, a community in the San Fernando valley about three miles from the site of the fatal crash.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two children, a son, Gary and a daughter, Dee.