Francis Gary Powers was an American pilot whose Central Intelligence Agency U-2 Spy Plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet Union airspace, causing what has become known as the 1960 U-2 incident.
Powers was on an espionage mission when his plane was hit by an S-75 Dvina missile. Powers was unable to activate the plane’s self-destruct mechanism before he parachuted to the ground and was captured. When the U.S. government learned of Powers’ disappearance over the Soviet Union, they issued a cover statement claiming a weather plane had strayed off course after its pilot had difficulties with his oxygen equipment. What CIA officials did not realise was that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he made a confession and a public apology for his part in espionage. On August 17, 1960, Powers was convicted of espionage against the Soviet Union and was sentenced to a total of ten years: three years imprisonment followed by seven years of hard labour.
On February 10 1962, Powers was exchanged in a well-publicised spy swap. He was exchanged for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, who had been caught by the USA and tried and jailed for espionage. Powers received a cold reception on his return home. Initially, he was criticised for having failed to activate his aircraft’s self-destruct charge to destroy the camera, photographic film, and related classified parts of his aircraft before his capture. He was also criticised for not using an optional CIA-issued suicide pill to kill himself.