Soviet Red Tape Entangles U.S. 'Friendship Flight' to Moscow

From Times Wire Services

An American pilot who flew his small plane to the Soviet Union on an officially sanctioned "friendship flight" left Moscow on Friday after spending three days locked in a transit hotel because Soviet red tape kept him from receiving a visa in time for the trip.

Millard Harmon, 59, a retired college administrator from Delmar, N.Y., landed with a Soviet navigator at Sheremetyevo Airport on Tuesday after a 3-hour, 45-minute flight from Helsinki, Finland.

"I have a clean bed and they feed me, but I just can't communicate with anybody," Harmon said earlier Friday. He said he was surprised that the Soviets allowed him to take a telephone call from the Associated Press.

The navigator, Vladislav Zakharov, who Soviet officials insisted accompany Harmon, "was an absolutely super guy, and most helpful," Harmon said.

Harmon began his trip from Dayton, Ohio, on June 12 and spent five days flying across the North Atlantic to Helsinki via Newfoundland, Iceland, and Oslo, Norway. Harmon said he did not know whether his flight was a first, but he hoped that the time between Helsinki and Moscow would be recognized as a light-plane speed record.

Kept Under Lock and Key

The greeting at the Moscow airport went fine until Soviet officials discovered he lacked a visa, he said. They promptly cordoned off his bright red six-seat Beechcraft 36 propeller plane and whisked him off to a nearby transit hotel, where he was kept under lock and key.

He said his visa had been issued in San Francisco, but had not caught up with him by the time his Soviet-approved flight plan called for him to leave Helsinki. He said he decided to leave without the visa rather than jeopardize the flight. He said the flight cost $100,000, and he has spent two years getting Soviet permission for the trip.

He was hoping up to the last minute that the visa would arrive and a friend in Helsinki was even waiting to catch a commercial flight to Moscow to take it to him if it arrived after Harmon's departure, he said.

Soviet authorities refused to issue a duplicate visa despite pressure from U.S. diplomats.

Before leaving Friday, Harmon had a brief and friendly meeting at the airport with Alexander Tyrsin, executive secretary of the Soviet sport flying club. They exchanged a few gifts, shook hands, and then Harmon went to his plane accompanied by a Soviet guard who handed him his American passport.

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