Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

The Return of a Legend

Why the search for a polar pilot who disappeared 85 years ago continues to this day

20 may 2022

20.05.2022 // An international expedition tasked with finding the plane of the legendary Soviet pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky will soon depart for the Arctic. Levanevsky went missing in 1937 during an attempt to reach America via the North Pole.

Sigizmund Levanevsky, who was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his role in the Chelyuskin expedition rescue, was the first in the world to put forward the idea of a transpolar flight from the USSR to the US. He first tried to reach America via the North Pole in 1934, but his plane iced up and he had to land in Chukotka. During the second attempt in 1935 the crew had to turn back because of an engine oil leak. In 1936, Levanevsky managed to fly from Los Angeles to Moscow and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour for his feat. But the North Pole remained unconquered.

On 19 June 1937, an airplane piloted by Valery Chkalov set course for America. After covering 9,130 km in 63 hours, it landed in Vancouver, thus making the world's first transpolar flight. The next person to successfully complete a transpolar flight was Mikhail Gromov. Levanevsky decided to prove at any cost that he could repeat their feat. On 12 August 1937, he departed from Moscow on a plane with tail number H-209. The next day the crew radioed that they had passed the North Pole, after which the plane disappeared without a trace. Since then, all attempts to find the missing crew have been unsuccessful.

There are several theories about what happened to the plane. According to one of them, it went off course and crashed somewhere in Yakutia. Some believe that the plane made it to the US coast. Still others think that Levanevsky landed on a drifting ice floe that got carried into the Greenland Sea, which is why the crew was never found.

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This year, members of the international historical and geographical search project Levanevsky's Plane. The Return of the Legend will check one more version: that the planed suddenly changed its course and made a forced landing on the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf of Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Archipelago because it ran out of fuel.

Still, there is no guarantee that this time Levanevsky's plane will finally be found. But regardless of the outcome, the project will hardly be a failure. After all, it has a special significance in the new geopolitical realities. It reminds us that the Arctic has always been and will be a region of international cooperation.

A digital portal called The Immortal Expedition will be created following the expedition. It will have an interactive map featuring Levanevsky's flight routes and the supposed crash sites of the H-209 plane. Meanwhile, the stories of other courageous Arctic explorers posted on the portal will inspire new generations of pioneers.

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