Nedelin Disaster

On October 26, 1960, the Soviet newspapers published a short communique from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR informing that Marshall of Artillery Mitrofan Nedelin has died in the airplane crash. No details about the accident or names of other victims have been released.

It took almost three decades before the first publication in the official Soviet press shed the light on what really happened in October 1960. In 1989, Ogonyok magazine, a mouthpiece of Gorbachev's "perestroika," run a story called "Sorok Pervaya Ploshadka," (or Site 41 in English). The article revealed to the Soviet people that Nedelin died in the explosion of a ballistic missile in Tyuratam along with numerous other nameless victims. Since Ogonyok's publication, several additional eyewitness accounts and the documents related to the accident have been published in Russia. Combined, they allow more or less accurate reconstruction of the the events of October 1960.

"A stream of fire burst out of the rocket, inundating everything around it," the article said. "People tried to escape by running to the covered area where cars and other equipment were, but tthe road literally melted in front of them, blocking the escape route," a survivor recalled, according to Ogonyok.

The bodies that could be identified numbered several dozen, including that of the officer whose poor judgement had caused the disaster. They were shipped home from the Soviet central Asia launch site for individual interment. Dozens more were burned beyond recognition in the horrible conflagration, and whatever remains could be found -- teeth, charred leather, shards of bone, keys and coins -- were swept up from the scorched concrete, placed in a single coffin, and lowered into a grave in a park in the rocket workers' city of Leninsk.

The families of these Soviet rocket workers were alone in their grief. Officials quickly announced that the commander had died in an airplane crash.