The family confirmed that Mr. Belenko breathed his last on September 24, at a senior living center near Rosebud, a small town in southern Illinois (USA). The cause was determined to be a short illness. At that time, news of Mr. Belenko’s death was not widely announced.
In 1976, Mr. Belenko stole a Soviet MiG-25 supersonic interceptor and approached the coast off the Japanese island of Hokkaido. At that time, the MiG-25 flew to an altitude of 6,000 m above sea level, a clear sign that the pilot wanted to be detected by radar systems in the area.
Around that time, the MiG-25 made Western militaries wary for many years. Therefore, the late US President George Bush, who was then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, called the incident an “intelligence opportunity”.
Before defecting, Mr. Belenko was a member of the elite Air Defense Forces, a separate branch of the Soviet Air Force tasked with protecting the country from the risk of attack.
He planned his escape for months and waited until he and his squadron were assigned to unarmed training missions over the Sea of Japan. When the time came, he began to flee.
After landing in Japan, Mr. Belenko was kept by Japanese officials, while the plane was transferred to the Americans. The MiG-25 was disassembled, dissected and analyzed before being returned to the Soviet Union a few weeks later.
Mr. Belenko was granted asylum in the US and later granted citizenship. To avoid being noticed, he took the last name Schmidt and moved around frequently, living mainly in small towns across the midwestern United States. He serves as a consultant to aerospace companies and government agencies.
After the end of the Cold War, Mr. Belenko occasionally appeared at air shows and used the name Viktor Belenko again.