Encyclopedia Astronautica
1971.06.30 - Landing of Soyuz 11 and death of crew.

Kamanin account: The next communications session with Soyuz 11 comes at 00:16. Kamanin reads up to the crew the conditions at the primary and secondary landing zones (10 km visibility, 2-3 m/s wind, 16 deg temperature, 720 mm pressure). The crew is to told to report on HF and UHF using all antennae and to call out parachute opening. They are ordered to wait in the capsule for the recovery crews, not to open the hatch themselves under any circumstances. It should take no more than 20 to 30 minutes until the recovery team can open the hatch from the outside. They are under no circumstances to try to get out of the capsule without the assistance of the doctors. Dobrovolsky confirms: "All received, landing sequence proceeding excellent, all OK, crew is excellent".

Telemetry shows the Soyuz braking engine begins firing at 01:35:24 and makes a nominal 187 second retrofire burn. Ground control waits for verbal confirmation, but there are no voice communications received from the capsule. At 01:47:28 the crew should have reported successful BO and PAO module separations from the capsule, but still nothing heard. It is not clear to ground control at this point - is Soyuz 11 heading for a landing or staying in orbit? From 01:49:37 to 2:04:07 the capsule is in communications range but there is no reply to the ground's calls. It is now obvious that something is wrong aboard Soyuz 11, but it is not clear what.

At 01:54 the VVS command point reports that radar has picked up the spacecraft at 2200 km uprange from the landing zone. It is on course, so the feeling is that the capsule's communications system has simply failed. The parachute deploy signal is received from within the landing zone, but still no transmissions from the crew as on earlier missions. At 02:05 an Il-14 search plane and Mi-8 helicopter spot Soyuz 11 descending under its parachute, within 200 km east of Dzhezkazgan. Soyuz 11 lands at 02:18 Moscow time. Four helicopters land simultaneously as the capsule thumps down on the steppe. The report from the recovery forces to the control centre is only one word: "Wait". There are no further tramsmissions from the recovery forces. It is clear the crew must be dead. Kamanin calls Goreglyad and tells him to set up a State Commission.

Later it is learned that two minutes after landing the hatch was opened by the recovery group and the crew was seen to be without signs of life. At 06:00 by orders of Ustinov and Smirnov the designated members of the State Commission depart from the Crimea for the landing site aboard a Tu-104, then transfer to an An-10. But on arrival they find that Goreglyad has already left for Moscow with the corpses of the crew. At 16:00 the engineers and doctors meet with the State Commission. The spacecraft's cabin, seats, parachute, equipment, and instruments have been examined. They indicate no problems - the spacecraft made a good soft landing. A hard landing was not a factor. All switches on the instrument panel were in their correct positions. A vent in one of two air valves was open 10 mm. There were no other discrepancies, even though the doctors already report that they believe the crew died from decompression of the cabin. At 23:00 the State Commission members leave for Moscow.

Chertok account: Soyuz 11 undocked at 21:25 Moscow time on 29 June. The crew had two revolutions to prepare for re-entry. They manually oriented the spacecraft in the zone of visibility with tracking stations in the Soviet Union and spun up the gyro platform for retrofire. Contact during re-entry would be via the NIP-16 tracking station with NIP-15 serving as a back-up. Soyuz 11's SKTDU main engine fired on 01:47 on 30 June. The crew reported all events leading up to retrofire on time. But the spacecraft had passed out of the range of any Soviet tracking stations at the the time of completion of retrofire - when the acceleration integrator commanded cut-off of the engine. By the time the vehicle was back in range, it was already in the blackout of re-entry. After emerging from that, telemetry was received, but no crew communications (after the death of Komarov on Soyuz 1 - when his voice transmissions blocked telemetry from the capsule - the communications were changed to a multi-channel system, allowing simultaneous voice and telemetry to be transmitted). An aircraft sighted the SA re-entry capsule, descending under its parachute 10 km from the aim point. A helicopter touched down next to the capsule within two minutes of its landing. There was no response from within the capsule. When the capsule was opened, the three cosmonauts were found to be dead. Dobrovolsky's corpse was still warm. The bodys were removed from the capsule and attempts were made to resuscitate the crew, to no avail. The cabin recorder showed the pressure had gone from 915 to 100 mm in 130 seconds.

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