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May 5, 1960 – Paris Summit: What Happened – CBS Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
May 5, 1960 – The much anticipated summit in Paris between Nikita Khrushchev and President Eisenhower. The Summit that ultimately did not happen – the Summit that managed to place the Cold War on freeze.
An international diplomatic crisis erupted in May 1960 when the The Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 spy plane in Soviet air space and captured its pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Confronted with the evidence of his nation’s espionage, President Eisenhower (was forced to admit to the Soviets that the CIA had been flying spy missions over the USSR for several years.
Winging through the thin atmosphere at the edge of space, Powers was carrying out the type of top-secret mission he specialized in: flying a U-2 spy plane over the USSR to photograph military installations. If all had gone according to plan, Powers’ nine-hour flight would have taken him from Pakistan to a landing zone in Norway. Unlike previous U-2 missions, however, this one went terribly wrong.
As Powers flew over Sverdlovsk, a Soviet surface-to-air missile exploded near his plane, causing it to drop to a lower altitude. A second missile scored a direct hit, and Powers and his aircraft began to plummet from the sky. The pilot managed to bail out, but when his parachute floated to earth, he was surrounded by Soviet forces. Powers landed in the center of a major diplomatic crisis.
On May 5, Khrushchev announced that the Soviet military had brought down an American spy plane, but he made no mention of capturing Powers. Officials in the Eisenhower administration believed that little evidence of the plane’s espionage mission had survived the crash, so they responded that the aircraft was merely a weather plane that had accidentally flown off course. The Soviet leader quickly disproved that story, however, by producing a photograph of the imprisoned pilot as well as evidence recovered from the wreckage that conclusively showed it was a surveillance aircraft.
Before the world leaders opened their Paris meeting, the Eisenhower administration took responsibility for the spy flights and admitted that the weather plane explanation was false. But the president’s confession could not save the summit. The U-2 incident had convinced Khrushchev that he could no longer cooperate with Eisenhower, and the Soviet leader walked out of the Paris meeting just hours after it began.
As the incident was unfolding, news organizations scrambled to cover the story, and this report via CBS Radio was being delivered while the crisis was in full swing. Here is Paris Summit: What Happened, as it was broadcast on May 5, 1960.