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Pilot of the Russian Aerospace Forces: We decided not to give up. The navigator took the grenade, I pulled the ring out of it.

Hero of Russia Senior Lieutenant Pyotr Kashtanov in the Radio Studio "TVNZ".

Hero of Russia Senior Lieutenant Pyotr Kashtanov in the Komsomolskaya Pravda Radio studio.

A photo: Alexander SHPAKOVSKY

On the eve of Heroes of the Fatherland Day, Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists met with an officer whose plane was shot down over enemy territory. But he completed the combat mission and, despite being wounded, led the crew to his own.

A short, modest and seemingly very young senior lieutenant tries to be sociable and relaxed.

“Peter,” he holds out his right hand.

And by a weak, as if unnaturally constrained handshake, we understand that the pilot has not yet fully recovered. In September, his Su-34 fighter-bomber, while performing a combat mission in the special operation zone, was shot down over enemy territory. The situation is stalemate – he has a broken arm, the navigator has a compression fracture of the spine, there are enemies around. But by some miracle, both manage to get out to their own.

Fighter-bomber Su-34 VKS of Russia.  Photo: Eric Romanenko/TASS

Fighter-bomber Su-34 VKS of Russia. Photo: Eric Romanenko/TASS

And now, sitting in front of us, as if descended from the pages of Boris Polevoi’s Tale of a Real Man, is a Russian officer, Pyotr Kashtanov. On the chest of the 31-year-old starley, the Star of the Hero of Russia plays with highlights …

POWERFUL IMPACT

Do you remember how that day started?

– From the rise, as usual. I got up at 6 in the morning, washed my face, had breakfast. And went to get the job. Also nothing supernatural – a flight to destroy enemy equipment. This is already a routine: they took off, worked out, returned, prepared, took off, worked out, returned.

– How many such flights per day can be?

– In different ways, – the officer professionally does not disclose official information. – We approached the plane with the navigator, examined, checked the weapons, sat down, began to fasten, launch, take off …

The pilot casually tells how at great speed they flew at ultra-low altitudes – below 25 meters. This is so that you understand when you “jump over” power lines. So there is less chance of being shot down. As they entered the target – a column of enemy equipment. How they “worked out on the enemy” and began to move away from the target in the direction of their troops. Turned around 70 degrees and then …

– Powerful blow.

– How about an accident? – we give a stupid analogy.

“Almost,” Peter answers diplomatically. – It shook us, and immediately the rotation along the axis began, there was very little time to make a decision – a maximum of 3-4 seconds. Thank God we had enough.

A photo: Alexander SHPAKOVSKY

– At what height was the blow?

– About 50 meters.

– Do you give the ejection order?

– We are together. The navigator said: “We were hit.” I immediately checked the control, the plane is uncontrollable. He only managed to say: “We are leaving” and put into action the ejection system.

“UNBEARABLE PAIN”

– What’s next?

– The blow is strong, all this is fleeting, and I’m already on a parachute. 10-15 seconds, probably, we descended to the ground. As I landed, I realized that my right arm was not working. The left one freed himself from the suspension system and began to look for the navigator. He landed 15 meters away.

– These 10-15 seconds, when you were still in the air, what were you thinking about?

How do we get out now. Which way to move.

– You crawled up to the navigator …

– Ran up. He is motionless. He began to take off his helmet, suspension. He has already begun to come to his senses. And the first thing he said: “Leave me here, save yourself.”

– Can we name the navigator?

– Dmitry Koptilov.

– What did you answer him?

– I said: “Nikolaich, I won’t leave without you. Let’s get out together.” I didn’t even think about leaving it there. I just grabbed him by the unloading and dragged him.

– With one hand?

– Well, yes. We should have at least given ourselves painkillers. The first 30 meters were overcome, the navigator says: “Unbearable pain.” I understood – it is necessary to prick.

– Did you have unbearable pain?

– Yes, I somehow did not feel. Adrenalin. At first we overcame a small swamp, that is, we swam in the non-swimming season. They just put them on anesthesia, and we already see that the Armed Forces of Ukraine arrived in three or four cars. We decided that we would not surrender. I took out a grenade, screwed a fuse into it. The navigator also has one hand, the left one, my right one is damaged. He took a grenade to his left. I said: “Hold it, Nikolaich, I’ll get the ring now.” And they started to wait. APU began combing the area. They were up to a platoon, probably.

– You prepared to blow yourself up with one grenade. How was this decision made?

– It was quickly accepted, but the decision was heavy. Surrender to surrender … Well, I would not allow myself such a thing. You can’t give up in this life. If we are discovered, there is time to live 3 seconds while the fuse is burning.

– Did you see them looking for you?

– Literally at 7 meters we observed one, he went in one direction, in the other … And artillery strikes began in this place. I believe it was our artillery working on them. This saved our lives. Because it scared them away, they moved away. We decided to wait until dark.

Hero of Russia Pilot Pyotr Kashtanov: "You can't give up in this life".

Hero of Russia Pilot Pyotr Kashtanov: “You can’t give up in this life at all.”

A photo: Alexander SHPAKOVSKY

“ARE THE RUSSIAN TROOPS HERE?”

Wet through five hours, they lie in the bushes, not moving, waiting for dusk. Surprisingly, the men are not shaking from the cold. Apparently the release of adrenaline and the action of the painkiller also affect. All this time, somewhere not far away, enemy reconnaissance snoops, artillery explosions are heard, sprinkling the wounded with earth and shrapnel at the end.

Toward evening the cannonade subsides. The navigator says: “I have a spine, I can’t get up.” Peter replies: “Nikolaich, we must go. It will be hard, but go. And they go through unharvested fields, hiding in thickets of sunflowers and corn. 7-10-15 minutes of walking, 2 minutes of rest – Dmitry’s injury constantly makes itself felt. Remember, as in Polevoy: “And he decided to go, go east, go through the forest, not trying to look for convenient roads and residential places, go, no matter what it costs … It seemed that the weaker and weaker his body became, the more stubborn and stronger was his spirit…”

In 13 hours they covered about 30 kilometers.

– We approached the settlement. “Come on, stay here, and I will go and see who is there in the village,” I say to the navigator. And then they noticed a vehicle with the letter Z. “That’s it, Nikolaich, one hundred percent of ours.” They came to the first house, noticed grandfather: “Father, are there Russian troops here?” He: “Yes, guys, I’ll take you now.” I say, “Can I have a drink?” He gave us water. I wanted to drink all the way.

Who did your grandfather take you to?

– To our gunners. We went into one hangar, the driver got out, and he already took us to the battalion commander at headquarters. They have already contacted ours, reported their whereabouts.

– How did the gunners meet you?

– Very well. They, too, of course, heard that such a situation had occurred, and it is not known where the crew is. And when we went to them, of course, we were surprised. But received well, immediately fed. And then a helicopter came for us.

“THE MAIN THING IS TO BE HONEST”

– Who was the first person you saw when you got out of the helicopter?

– Commander. He reported on the completion of the task, the commander hugged: “Thank you, men, for being alive.” Well, then the hospital, treatment and rewarding.

– Rejoiced at the award?

– I was rather embarrassed. I still do not realize that I did such a heroic thing. The country rated it that way. I will bear this high title with dignity.

– Not only did you complete the combat mission and returned from it. You also pulled out a comrade-in-arms, brought him back home.

– I did not return it, we walked together. We acted like a well-coordinated mechanism, like a crew. Such a situation has arisen. We did what we were taught.

Voenkor "Komsomolskaya Pravda" Alexander Kots.

Military correspondent of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” Alexander Kots.

A photo: Alexander SHPAKOVSKY

– Okay, so they taught. Did you remember your teachers with kind words?

– Of course. My first pilot-instructor has already called up. I am grateful to all the instructors who put young boys on the wing in the training regiments. This is worth a lot, they have a very big and responsible job.

But Peter Kashtanov became a pilot only thanks to his perseverance. He was drawn to the sky from childhood. Mom said that they lived near the airfield. And four-year-old Petya loved to watch how every day planes took off above him and parachute domes opened in the air. It was then that he said that he would definitely become a pilot, although he himself does not remember this.

After the 9th grade, he entered a boarding school in Tambov with initial flight training. There – everything is like in the army: a company, a platoon, a barracks position, outfits … And after graduating, I went to a flight school. Just got in on the fifth try. One discipline was not given. During this time, he even served a term as a tanker. But he did not give up the dream of heaven: “If I take on something, I bring it to the end.” The first flight…

– Delight and admiration. This cannot be conveyed, because in principle it is not natural for a person to fly. And this is for life.

– And who was your guide?

– Maresiev, of course. This is the well-known story of a man who crawled, because his legs were broken, to his own. And he also had a dream – to fly. And he achieved this – he flew without legs.

Pyotr Kashtanov told how he completed the combat mission and, despite being wounded, led the crew to his

Pyotr Kashtanov told how he completed the combat mission and, despite being wounded, led the crew to his

A photo: Personal archive

– Do you plan to return to the sky?

– Of course! Now treatment and recovery. And then at the helm of the aircraft, the best in the world – the Su-34.

– Now young boys will read it, they will also want to become pilots. What qualities should be cultivated in oneself?

– Perseverance – definitely. Patience – everything has its time, as they say. The main thing in aviation is to always be honest. Before myself, comrades and commanders.

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