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25 Years After, Mathias Rust Remembers Historic Flight To Red Square

In September 1987, Mathias Rust goes on trial in Moscow for illegally landing near Red Square.
In September 1987, Mathias Rust goes on trial in Moscow for illegally landing near Red Square.
The story of Mathias Rust's flight from Helsinki to Moscow in 1987 is probably one of the strangest episodes of the Cold War.

Twenty-five years ago Rust, a 19-year-old German with about 50 hours of flying experience, managed to evade Soviet air defenses before landing his Cessna on Red Square.

While Rust described his flight as an attempt to create an "imaginary bridge" between West and East after the failed U.S.-Soviet Reykjavik Summit, the Soviets didn't view it the same way and Rust received a four-year jail term (he eventually served 14 months).

To mark the anniversary of his flight, "The Guardian" has an interview with Rust (watch below) where he explains why he made his incredibly dangerous voyage. Rust said he was frightened but convinced he was doing the right thing, even when he was being shadowed by MiG fighters.

When he got to Red Square, Rust made several abortive attempts to land before settling on a bridge by St. Basil's Cathedral. The footage, taken by a British doctor, of him flying just meters off the ground around Red Square is truly remarkable.

WATCH: Mathias Rust talks to "The Guardian"

The fact that a German teenager could fly unhindered right up to the walls of the Kremlin was deeply symbolic of the ineptitude and bankruptcy of the Soviet system. But it also revealed the Soviet Union's vulnerability and the cautious openness of those times. Gorbachev capitalized on that symbolism and used the incident to fire defense and military officials whom he saw as standing in the way of his reform efforts.

As soon as Rust returned to Germany, there was talk of him being unhinged. In 1989, he stabbed a colleague at the hospital where he was working after she had rejected his advances. He went to prison again -- this time for 15 months -- after being convicted of attempted manslaughter.

In a recent interview with Germany's "Stern" magazine, he said he was always considered an "oddball." Since then, Rust has had various other brushes with the law. He now describes himself as working for a Zurich-based investment bank and said he wants to open a yoga school.

As Rust says in the video, "part of my character is that I like to push limits, to cross lines, and to figure out for myself how far I can go."

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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