For the first time ever, an Aeroflot passenger jet Monday flew across the Bering Strait to Alaska, delivering government officials from the Soviet Far East for talks about trade and travel across the U.S.-Soviet maritime border.
"We're ecstatic to be here," said Vyacheslav Kobets, chairman of the Magadan region, after embracing Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper.
The Soviet plane carried 100 people--Soviet Far East Communist Party and government officials, Soviet and foreign journalists, musicians, dancers, teachers, students, scientists, researchers, workers and Soviet Eskimos.
A large crowd appeared at Anchorage International Airport to see what airport officials said was the first Soviet jetliner to fly across the Bering Sea border to nearby Alaska.
At a brief news conference, government leaders from Alaska and the Soviet Far East congratulated each other for making the unprecedented trip a reality.
A single previous official delegation from the Soviet Union traveled across the Bering Strait by boat. That group was small and not nearly as diverse as Monday's Aeroflot flight.
The delegation will spend a week in Alaska, talking trade and tourism but also being tourists themselves, with about half the group staying in private homes.
"One of the most important ways to establish strong personal relations is to have fun together," Cowper said. A lot of that fun was planned for two concerts next weekend.
"We've been able to take steps to melt the 'Ice Curtain' that has existed between Alaska and the Soviet Union since 1948," Cowper told a crowd of international journalists.