A Soviet farmer early Wednesday flew a stolen crop-duster airplane across the Baltic Sea, crashed 10 yards off a Swedish island, swam ashore and asked for political asylum.
Two Swedish jet fighter-interceptors briefly scrambled when the biplane piloted by Roman Svistonov, 24, a Latvian, appeared on Swedish radar.
Svistonov told police he was disenchanted by communism and that he left his wife and his 3-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son in the Soviet Union. He said he stole the crop duster near Riga in Soviet Latvia after slipping into the airport by pretending to be a mechanic.
“I have the impression the man knew what he was doing and that he planned to escape for a long time, although he did not tell his wife,” Police Chief Uno de Fine Licht said in Visby, 90 miles southeast of Stockholm.
Officials from the Soviet Embassy in Stockholm and the Soviet airline Aeroflot came to Visby to see Svistonov, but the former crop duster refused to meet with them, police said.
Swedish authorities, who as a rule grant asylum to East Bloc defectors, planned to discuss with the Soviets how to return the plane.
Authorities gave this account of the escape:
After flying for more than two hours about 220 miles across the Baltic Sea, Svistonov approached Sweden’s eastern outpost of Gotland Island in cloudy but calm weather.
Afraid that he was running out of fuel, he attempted an emergency landing and nose-dived into the sea 10 yards off Ostergarn islet just east of Gotland.
The biplane came to rest on its nose in 13 feet of water. Svistonov swam ashore and broke into a building and stole dry clothing, but he was discovered by the pilot of a helicopter that was sent to the scene after fishermen reported the crash. The crash apparently occurred before the Swedish warplanes could reach the area.
The defector complained about chest pain but was otherwise in good shape, police said.