The tragedy was revealed to the world in a message released by the Soviet national news agency at 6 a. m. on the 30 June:
TASS reports the deaths of the crew of the spaceship Soyuz 11, Lieutenant – Colonel Georgiy Timofeyevich Dobrovolskiy, Flight Engineer Vladislav Nikolayevich Volkov and Research Engineer Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev.
On 29 June 1971 the crew of the Salyut orbital station fully completed the flight programme, and was directed to make the landing. The cosmonauts transferred the results of their scientific research and logs to the transport spaceship Soyuz 11 for return to Earth. After completing the transition, the cosmonauts took their seats in the Soyuz 11 spaceship, checked the systems and prepared the spaceship for undocking from the Salyut station.
At 21.28 the Soyuz 11 spaceship separated from the Salyut station, and continued its flight separately. The crew of Soyuz 11 reported to Earth that the undocking operation had occurred normally, and that all their systems were functioning normally.
In order to make the descent to Earth, at 01.35 on June 30, after orienting the Soyuz 11 spaceship, the braking engine was fired. This functioned for the required duration. Once the braking manoeuvre had been concluded, all communication with the crew ceased.
In accordance with the automated programme, after aerodynamic braking in the atmosphere the parachute system was operated and the soft-landing engines were fired before landing. The flight of the descent module ended in a smooth landing in the preset area.
A helicopter-borne recovery team landed at the same time as the Soyuz 11 spaceship, and upon opening the hatch found the crew of the spaceship in their couches without any signs of life. The causes of the crew’s deaths are being investigated.
By their selfless work in the testing of sophisticated space equipment – both the first manned orbital station Salyut and the transport ship Soyuz 11 – Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev have made a tremendous contribution to the development of manned orbital flights. The exploits of the courageous cosmonauts Georgiy Timofeyevich Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Nikolayevich Volkov and Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev will for ever remain in the memory of the Soviet people.
On Moscow TV, the reading of this announcement was followed by portraits of the cosmonauts and the continuous playing of solemn music. It was announced that the space heroes were to be given a full State funeral. The nation was stunned. The deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew shook Moscovites even more than the death of the first man to fly in space, Yuriy Gagarin, in 1968. People wept openly in the streets. For over three weeks the record-breaking flight had been featured on both radio and TV. Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev were not seen as just the latest cosmonauts, but as a crew that had accomplished something really new, had broken records, and had unquestionably demonstrated the Soviet lead in the development of orbital stations. Yet, at the final stage, the victory had been transformed not merely into failure but into an overwhelming tragedy.