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Personalities 19 May 2017 25 4837

Skybound. Downed in the wilderness, he lost both legs but kept on flying

  • Legendary Russian WWII pilot Aleksey Maresyev survived the impossible
  • After losing both legs, he continued to fly and defend his motherland against the Nazis
  • His heroic example inspired others and paved the way for handicapped pilots
  • His crash site remained a mystery for many decades and was only discovered by chance
  • Maresyev’s descendants follow the man who made the discovery to where the legend of “the real man” was born

WWII fighter pilot Aleksey Maresyev survived the impossible: his plane was shot down in a remote wilderness, the crash broke his legs and he still managed to find safety. It took him 18 days of crawling through a snow-covered forest, with no food or water. The amputation of his legs meant he would be discharged from the armed forces. No doctor would send him back to the front-line. Maresyev, however, wanted to fly fighter planes again to defend his country against the Nazi threat.

Related: Russia's Top Guns Showcase their Aviation Skills

His doctors and commanders took a lot of convincing to let him return to the pilot’s seat and his comrades were nervous about teaming up with a handicapped pilot. They needed to know that every unit member would have their backs in combat. Soon, however, Maresyev dispelled all concerns with his skill. His example inspired other pilots. When the War was over, Russian writer, Boris Polevoy, wrote a book about Maresyev’s heroic feat, “The story of a real man”. His work was taught in schools and every child knew of Maresyev’s amazing willpower, determination and courage.  His example saved the lives and careers of other pilots who found themselves in similar situations in years to come.

Related: Three disabled men reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro

One detail from his story remained a mystery for many decades: nobody could find his plane. Finally, one man, Aleksandr Morzunov, became a forensic investigator and, by a twist of fate, discovered the crash site. He would only agree to reveal it in the presence of Aleksey Maresyev’s family. The hero’s son and grandson travel to where the legend of their ancestor was born.

Watch this film in Russian

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