19. A Hapless U-2 Pilot Almost Caused WWIII
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world came to a radioactive holocaust, as the American and Soviet governments stared each other down, with fingers on nuclear hair triggers. It was bad, but most folk who lived through the crisis did not know at the time just how bad. As was revealed years later, billions around the world might have perished, because an American spy plane had accidentally blundered deep into Soviet airspace at the height of the crisis.
At 1:45PM on October 27th, 1962, president Kennedy was informed that a U-2 spy plane, operating out of Alaska, had gone missing inside Soviet airspace. The plane was supposed to fly to just outside the Soviet border, where it was to test clouds drifting from the USSR for radioactive particles. Its hapless pilot, however, ended up blundering deep into the USSR, and the Soviets scrambled fighters to shoot him down. It was the worst possible moment for such a screwup, as the Soviets might have viewed the incursion as a deliberate provocation. Luckily, the U-2 made it back to base, but Kennedy, who called its pilot a “son of a bitch”, made sure he never flew a U-2 again.