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Claudia 'Sue' Powers, 68; Wife of Spy Plane Pilot Downed During Cold War

June 25, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Claudia "Sue" Powers, widow of downed U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers and an advocate of preserving Cold War history, died June 17 in Las Vegas of respiratory failure. She was 68.

She was a CIA psychometrist who tested agents returning from abroad when she met Powers in 1962 after his release from a Soviet prison. Powers' U-2 was shot down on May 1, 1960, as he flew over Soviet airspace, and after parachuting out of the plane he was captured and convicted of espionage. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was freed on Feb. 10, 1962, in exchange for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.

The couple married, each for the second time, in 1963 and moved to Los Angeles, where Powers spent eight years as a Lockheed test pilot working on the U-2. In the 1970s, he flew fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for local radio and television stations, covering traffic and news events such as wildfires. He died on Aug. 1, 1977, when his KNBC-TV Channel 4 helicopter crashed in Encino.

With their son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., his widow worked to obtain posthumous medals -- the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and the Department of Defense Prisoner of War Medal -- for her husband.

She also helped her son establish the Cold War Museum, a traveling exhibit that honors Powers, and was an honorary chairman of the Silent Heroes of the Cold War National Memorial Committee. A resident of Las Vegas since 1994, she was a longtime volunteer at its Atomic Testing Museum.

In addition to her son, Powers is survived by a daughter from her previous marriage, Dee Rogers; and two grandchildren.

Private services are planned Saturday in Las Vegas, and she will be buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Cold War Museum.

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