Monday, April 10, 2006

The downing of KAL 007



KAL007 took off from New York-JFK on August 31, 1983, bound for Kimpo Airport in Seoul, South Korea. After making a stop at Anchorage, the Boeing 747 continued on its scheduled route across the Aleutian Islands. There were passengers from 16 countries, including 23 children under 12 years of age. There were 75 Koreans, 61 Americans, 23 Taiwanese, 28 Japanese, 15 Finns, 12 Chinese from Hong Kong, 10 Canadians, and six Thais. There were 12 passengers in first class and 6 additional Korean Airlines employees, crew members returning to Seoul. There was also a family of four, a porter for Alaska International Airlines, his wife and two children, who were taking advantage of the discounted tickets offered to airline employees and were flying back to Alaska after visiting his parents in New Jersey.

One passenger got caught in a traffic jam on his way to the airport from his New York office and missed the flight.

Some were flying to Korea or on to Japan, Hong Kong, or another country on business. Some were going to visit friends or relatives. Some were going to the funerals of loved ones and some were returning home after vacationing in the United States. There were undergraduates and graduate students going to teach or study. And there were tourists looking forward to seeing the sights. Among the passengers was U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald from Georgia. . He had missed the previous flight after missing his connection due to a delay for bad weather. He was part of a deputation in Seoul to mark the 30th anniversary of the treaty between the United States and South Korea.

The plane followed the wrong course however, and as it drifted into Soviet airspace, six MiG-23 fighter jets were scrambled to shoot it down. Before the fighters could make the intercept, KAL007 passed over the Sea of Okhotsk and out of Soviet airspace and the MiGs disengaged - possibly due to a lack of range for reasons discussed below. It was now nearly 100 miles north of its normal route, and headed for Sakhalin island, north of Japan. As it approached Soviet airspace again, now almost 200 miles off course, two Su-15 interceptors were scrambled from Sokol Airport on Sakhalin to destroy it.

Soviet defense command ordered the fighters to engage at 3:22 AM local time, and KAL007 was struck by two missiles fired by one fighter at 3:26 AM while cruising, unaware of any danger, at 35,000 feet. No attempt was made to contact the pilots by either the Soviet fighters or Soviet ground control.


Flight Data Recording.

F/D = Flight Deck
PA = Public Announcement
HF = High Frequency (radio)
CAM-1 = First Officer
CAM-2 = 3rd crewmember and PA
CAM-3 = Cockpit Area Mike
CAM-4 = Captain

26.18 18.20:28 TOKYO HF CAM-1,2,3,4 TOKYO ROGER.
27.38 18.21:48 F/D CAM-3 [ Sound: altitude alert ]
28.45 18.22:55 F/D CAM-4 [ Keyed microphone ]
28.46 18.22:56 007 HF 1 CAM-1,2,3,4 TOKYO RADIO KOREAN AIR ZERO ZERO SEVEN REACHING LEVEL THREE FIVE ZERO.
28.50 18.23:00 TOKYO HF CAM-1,2,3,4 KOREAN AIR ZERO ZERO SEVEN TOKYO ROGER.
31.45 18.25:55 DYNASTY 312 HF CAM-4 TOKYO RADIO, DYNASTY THREE ONE TWO ON FIVE SIX.
31.50 18.26:00 TOKYO HF CAM-4 DYNASTY THREE ONE TWO TOKYO.
31.52 18.26:02 CAM-3 [ Sound of explosion?]
31.53 18.26:03 DYNASTY 312 HF CAM-4 Dynasty three one two position Payon one eight two five level three three zero estimate Shemya one nine three five remainder ... remaining one two six decimal zero minus five zero ... one zero diagonal four zero go ahead.
31.56 18.26:06 F/D CAM-3 What's happened?
31.58 18.26:08 F/D CAM-3 What?
32.00 18.26:10 F/D CAM-3 Retard throttles.
32.01 18.26:11 F/D CAM-3 Engines normal.
32.04 18.26:14 F/D CAM-3 Landing gear.
32.05 18.26:15 F/D CAM-3 [ Sound: cabin altitude warning ]
32.07 18.26:17 F/D CAM-3 Landing gear [ Noise of possible selection ]
32.08 18.26:18 F/D CAM-3 [ Sound: altitude deviation warning ]
32.11 18.26:21 F/D CAM-3 [ Sound: autopilot disconnect warning ]
32.12 18.26:22 F/D CAM-3 Altitude is going up.
32.13 18.26:23 F/D CAM-3 [ Sound: cabin call ]
32.14 18.26:24 F/D CAM-3 Altitude is going up.
32.15 18.26:25 F/D CAM-3 Speed brake is coming out.
32.16 18.26:26 F/D CAM-3 What? What?
32.17 18.26:27 F/D CAM-4 (unreadable)
32.19 18.26:29 F/D CAM-3 CHECK it out.
32.20 18.26:30 F/D CAM-2,3 [ Sound: PA chime for automatic cabin announcement ]
32.20 18.26:30 TOKYO HF CAM-4 DYNASTY THREE ONE TWO ... CONTACT ANCHORAGE.
32.23 18.26:33 F/D CAM-3 [Sound: cabin call]
32.23 18.26:33 F/D CAM-3 I am not able to drop altitude now unable.
32.24 18.26:34 PA CAM-2 Attention emergency descent.
32.25 18.26:35 DYNASTY 312 HF CAM-4 THANK YOU OUT
32.28 18.26:38 PA CAM-2 Attention emergency descent.
32.28 18.26:38 F/D CAM-3 Altitude is going up.
32.30 18.26:40 F/D CAM-3 This is not working. This is not working.
32.31 18.26:41 F/D CAM-3 Manually.
32.32 18.26:42 F/D CAM-3 Cannot do MANUALLY.
32.32 18.26:42 PA CAM-2 Attention emergency descent. {in Japanese}
32.33 18.26:43 F/D CAM-3 [ Sound: Autopilot disconnect warning ] Not working manually also.
32.35 18.26:45 F/D CAM-3 ENGINES are normal Sir.
32.36 18.26:46 PA CAM-2 Put out your cigarette. This is an emergency descent.
32.38 18.26:48 F/D CAM-3 ... (unreadable)
32.39 18.26:49 PA CAM-2 PUT OUT YOUR CIGARETTE. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY DESCENT
32.40 18.26:50 F/D CAM-3 Is it POWER COMPRESSION?
32.41 18.26:51 F/D CAM-3 Is that right?
32.42 18.26:52 PA CAM-2,3 Put out your cigarette. This is an emergency descent. {in Japanese}
32.42 18.26:52 F/D CAM-3 ... all of both ... *
32.44 18.26:54 F/D C CAM-3 Is that right?
32.45 18.26:55 PA CAM-2 Put the mask over your nose and mouth and adjust the headband.
32.47 18.26:57 007 HF 1 F/D CAM-1,3,4 TOKYO RADIO KOREAN AIR ZERO ZERO SEVEN.
32.51 18.27:01 PA CAM-2 PUT THE MASK OVER YOUR NOSE AND MOUTH AND ADJUST THE HEADBAND.
32.52 18.27:02 TOKYO HF CAM-1,3,4 TOKYO RADIO KOREAN AIR ZERO ZERO SEVEN.
32.54 18.27:04 007 HF 1 FO CAM-1,3,4 ROGER KOREAN AIR ZERO ZERO SEVEN ... (unreadable) AH WE (ARE EXPERIENCING) ...
32.58 18.27:08 PA CAM-2 Put the mask over your nose and mouth and adjust the headband. {in Japanese}
32.59 18.27:09 F/D C CAM-3 ALL COMPRESSION.
33.00 18.27:10 007 HF 1 FO CAM-1 RAPID DECOMPRESSION DESCEND TO ONE ZERO THOUSAND.
33.05 18.27:15 PA CAM-2 Attention emergency descend.
33.09 18.27:19 PA CAM-2 ATTENTION EMERGENCY DESCEND.
33.10 18.27:20 F/D CAM-3 Now ... * ... we have to set this.
33.11 18.27:21 TOKYO HF CAM-1,3,4 KOREAN AIR ZERO ZERO SEVEN unreadable unreadable RADIO CHECK ON ONE ZERO ZERO FOUR EIGHT.
33.13 18.27:23 PA CAM-2 Attention emergency descent {in Japanese}.
33.13 18.27:23 F/D CAM-3 Speed.
33.16 18.27:26 CAM-3 Stand by Stand by Stand by Stand by set.
33.17 18.27:27 PA CAM-2 Put out your cigarette. This is an emergency descent.
33.20 18.27:30 PA F/D CAM-2 PUT OUT YOUR CIGARETTE. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY DESCENT.
33.23 18.27:33 PA CAM-2 Put out your cigarette. This is an emergency descent. {in Japanese}
33.28 18.27:38 PA CAM-2 Put the mask over your nose and mouth and adjust the headband.
33.33 18.27:43 PA CAM-2 Put the mask over your nose and mouth and adjust ...
33.36 18.27:46 - END OF RECORDING

The missile strike did not cause the plane to explode or break up, as is usually assumed. All four engines were still running but the control systems were shattered. What is left out of the stewardesses safety briefing at the start of every flight is that no four engined heavy has ever successfully ditched at sea, and none is ever likely to do so.

Japanese fishermen watched the stricken airliner fall through the sky, its lights dead and aviation fuel spraying wildly from tanks in its severed wing. It made two circles around the island Moneron and then hit the water at approximately the speed of sound. If the plane had hit land then the impacting part of the fuselage would have absorbed the shock, much as a crumple zone does in a car, but hitting the water meant the plane was ripped apart, with few pieces over a metre or two surviving. This lack of large pieces of wreckage was to fuel the wilder conspiracy theories to come.

The main wreckage lay in international waters 17 nautical miles north of Moneron Island, at a depth of about 200 meters. The plane was torn apart, even the heavy pre 9/11 cutlery had been bent by the force of impact. Its occupants had been shredded, the bodies soon eaten by the local cuttlefish. Soviet divers searching for the data recorders spotted only scattered remains, "a severed arm, a woman's scalp, a glove with a hand still inside."

From US and Japanese intercepts of Soviet communications, including those of Soviet ground control talking the fighters to their target, the White House learned of the shootdown within hours and, with Secretary Shultz taking the lead, denounced the Soviet act as deliberate mass murder. It made headline news around the world. President Reagan called it "an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations."

A TASS report, published in all Soviet newspapers on the 2nd of September 1983 stated:

"On the night of 31 August - 1 September, an aircraft of undetermined nationality overflew the Kamchatka peninsula from the direction of the Pacific Ocean; then, it violated USSR airspace again over Sakhalin Island. The aircraft was flying without any navigational lights, did not answer our queries, and did not respond to air traffic control.

Air Defense fighters, which intercepted the trespasser, tried to lead it to the nearest airfield. However the aircraft did not respond to the fighters' signals and warnings and continued flying toward the Sea of Japan."

This first Soviet report was, in fact, proved to be wrong in every major point. The report ended with the 'undetermined' aircraft 'flying towards the sea of Japan'. No mention was made of its destruction, or the loss of life. Moscow did not even acknowledge the incident until September 6, and delayed an official explanation for three more days.

On 9 September, Marshal Ogarkov held a live press conference that ran for two hours. There was no apology. No hint of contrition. He claimed the Soviets had believed the plane to be an American RC-135 spyplane and that, regardless of whether it was an RC-135 or a 747, the plane was unquestionably on a US or joint US-Japanese intelligence mission, and the local air defense commander had made the correct decision. The real blame for the tragedy, he insisted, lay with the United States, not the USSR.

A classified memorandum submitted to the Politburo by the Defense Ministry and the KGB, released in 1992, concluded:

"We are dealing with a major, dual-purpose political provocation carefully organized by the US special services. The first purpose was to use the incursion of the intruder aircraft into Soviet airspace to create a favorable situation for the gathering of defense data on our air defense system in the Far East, involving the most diverse systems including the Ferret satellite. Second, they envisaged, if this flight were terminated by us, [the US would use] that fact to mount a global anti-Soviet campaign to discredit the Soviet Union."

Andropov pursued that line in his reaction to events, rounding on the USA for 'provoking' such acts. It says much for Soviet morality that they could have assumed that a civilian airliner might really have been consciously sacrificed in this way for political advantage. With leftist sympathisers in the west keen to invent any sad or crazedconspiracy theorythey could to excuse the Soviet action and blame the United States for the tragedy, Andropov went on the offensive.

"The sophisticated provocation, organized by the US special services and using a South Korean airplane, is an example of extreme adventurism in policy. We have given the factual aspect of this action a detailed and authentic elucidation. The guilt of its organizers--no matter how they twist and turn or how many false stories they put out--have been proved.

The Soviet leadership has expressed regret in connection with the loss of human lives that was the result of this unprecedented act of criminal sabotage. It is on the conscience of those who would like to arrogate to themselves the right to disregard the sovereignty of states and the inviolability of their borders, who conceived of and carried out this provocation, who literally the next day hurried to push through Congress colossal military appropriations and now are rubbing their hands in satisfaction.

The Soviet leadership deems it necessary to inform the Soviet people, other peoples, and all who are responsible for determining the policy of states, of its assessment of the course pursued in international affairs by the current US administration. In brief, it is a militarist course that represents a serious threat to peace.... If anyone had any illusion about the possibility of an evolution for the better in the policy of the present American administration, recent events have dispelled them completely."

- Yuri Andropov, Soviet Premier, as reported in Pravda and Izvestiya, 29 September 1983.

Like the captain of the USS Vincennes, which mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988, the local Soviet air defense commander made a dreadful but honest mistake. His forces had been on high alert since U.S. Pacific fleet exercises in the spring of that year when the Soviets believed US planes had taken advantage of local fogs to penetrate up to 20 miles into Soviet airspace. The Soviet air defense command had been put on hair trigger alert and senior officers were transferred, reprimanded, or dismissed after this failure. A US Air Force RC-135 reconaissance plane was making a flight east of Kamchatka at the same time as KAL007 strayed off course. The destruction of KAL 007 was criminally negligent manslaughter, not premeditated murder, though misidentification is still hard to credit as the airliner's navigation lights were on for the duration of its flight, and American spy planes flew in 'figures of eight' crossing the border to force the Soviets to turn their radars on then slipping away before the interceptors could arrive, while the Jumbo flew in a simple straight line.

Ronald Reagan used the downing of KAL 007 to press forward his bid to increase defence spending, and particularly get the MX missile programme through congress, while diplomatic and commercial sanctions against the USSR were urged at the U.N.

In the first few years after the crash conspiracy theorists and yellow journalists played posed theories that it was actually a CIA platform in disguise or Ronald Reagan's way of testing Soviet air defenses. Though without any basis in reality these found fertile ground in anti-American circles. As late as 1996, Michel Brun published an entertainly absurd book which saw KAL007 as the centerpiece of a U.S.-Soviet air battle in which ten American aircraft were downed. Alternative theories thought the passengers might have survived and were being held prisoner in the USSR.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin was more than willing to turn over the Soviet papers on the crash to the International Civil Aviation Organization. They showed that Flight 007 was at 46¡ 46' 27" North and 141¡ 32' 48" East, almost 16 miles past the coast of Sakhalin when it was shot down. This put it outside Soviet airspace, making the shootdown a clear violation of international law. The debriefing of one of the Su-15 pilots confirmed that neither pilot thought the aircraft was an RC-135, but were under orders to shoot the plane down regardless, lest 'sensitive' information leave the Soviet Union. KAL007 was shot down less because it had entered Soviet airspace but because it had just left it, 30 seconds before.

One overlooked factor was the nature of the Su-15 interceptor itself. Codenamed Flagon by NATO, it was formidable in terms of maximum speed and performance but its raw power came at the expense of range, endurance and avionics. Its onboard radar lacked range, so it relied on ground control to find its target and, with a frighteningly high fuel consumption, the plane had little time to track a target compared with its western counterparts which routinely shadowed Soviet spyflights near NATO territory without shooting them down. The pilot of the plane, in an interview reproduced below, notes that he had only 10 minutes of fuel left when he fired his missiles and only just managed to return to base in time.


After the defection of Victor Belenko to Japan in a Mig 25, it is rumoured that the Soviets limited the fuel in their interceptors, making any repeat of the feat impossible. The Mig 25, like the SU 15, had a very limited range at high speed and even with a full fuel load had only just made it to Japan. It's possible that the SU 15s were also even more limited than usual in their range and were already near the 'point of no return' when they attacked. The word 'Mig' in Russian means 'twinkling' and a Russian joke of the time made a pun on the phrase 'in a twinkling to Japan'.

In 1991, Andrej Illesh interviewed Lt Col Gennadij Nikolaevich Osipovich, the pilot of the SU15 which shot down KAL 007. He was no longer in the airforce, but had retired and grew strawberries on a small plot of land.

"There was a constant war of nerves. During my 10 years of service in the Far East, I took off on thousands of intercepts. We knew the tail numbers of the intruders. And they ours. One of the officers in my regiment, after returning from leave, took off on an intercept flight. When suddenly he heard, "Hello, Nikolaev. Where did you go on your vacation?..."

Then, in April 1983, something happened. By taking advantage of the "vynos" - that's when the fog rolls in from the sea, then later is burnt off by the sun - the Americans violated our air space and circled over the island of Zelenyj for 15 minutes.

After this, a commission arrived and chewed us out. They poured it on! After the commission left, the regimental commander summed everything up and told us, if there should be any air combat over the Kuriles, you won't be able to make it home. Therefore, we will direct you to the nearest dry land so you can make a parachute landing.

Of course stress increased after this. For several weeks, we loaded our weapons racks and waited. It was June before the tension began to ease. The regimental doctor began insisting that I take leave. The load was beginning to have an effect on me. Every day I either flew an intercept mission or directed other flight, since I was the Deputy Commander of the regiment.

On 16 August, I returned from leave to Sakhalin to the village of Sokol, where our unit was deployed.

"At that time", continues Osipovich, "the regiment was switching over to the MiG-23 and the MiG-31. The pilots were being retrained. One squadron had left (for training). And there were not many people left in the regiment. I had several days leave remaining, but the commander asked me to return early.

After four shifts, I was back in the swing of things and requested night duty. It was better for me to work nights. The more so, since I had received an invitation for 1 September to the school, where my son was in his first year and my daughter was in her eighth. I was supposed to give a speech on peace.

On the 31st of August, I went on duty as usual. I was the senior person and assigned myself to readiness three. (Readiness) one is when the pilot must sit in the plane. Two - he must be dressed in flight uniform. But three - you do not have to be dressed, just able to get into your plane within 10 minutes in case anything happens.

I assumed my post and reported to my superiors. Then I had supper. I was watching the television and dozed off. About 4:30, I woke up to check the guard. I had just gotten dressed, when the phone rang. Lt Astakhov answered the phone, listened to the other end, then mumbled something or other to me. Finally I understood. He was saying, "You are to go to readiness one."

I set off for the plane, and while walking, wondered, "Why was I assigned readiness one? They know that a junior pilot is already at readiness one."

Nevertheless I quickly climbed into the cockpit and reported in.

They confirmed my orders - be prepared.

I waited, but there were no new orders. Suddenly I see that they are uncovering another plane. What is going on? The Americans don't usually begin stirring until after 11:00. This is too early for them...

At 6:00 (local time) they finally gave me a command, "Take off." I started my engine, switched on the lights since the runway was not lit up yet and began taxing out.

They gave me a course toward the sea. I quickly climbed to my assigned altitude of 8,500 meters and then it hit me. For some reason, I was convinced that they had sent up a practice target to check our procedures. This was a training mission. And I was selected as the most experienced.

Eight minutes flight time passed. Suddenly the ground controller transmits, "The target is in front of you! An aircraft intruder in violation of flight rules. You are on a head on course."

However he did not vector me to a frontal intercept. Soon they gave me a new command:

"We will vector you toward a rear hemisphere intercept."

There was nothing else to do. I turned onto a reverse course. And, after receiving corrections, went after the intruder. The weather was normal. Soon I caught sight of the intruder through the scattered clouds. What do I mean by 'caught sight of?' I could make out a speck flying in the distance about 2 or 3 centimeters long. Its lights were turned on.

What were you thinking at that moment?

I wasn't thinking about anything. I was excited. Later no matter how many times they asked me to reconstruct the events that occurred second by second, I could not remember the details.

What is a fighter pilot? He is something like a sheep dog, that they train to chase intruders. I was seeing directly ahead of me exactly that - an intruder. I am not a traffic cop, who can stop a traffic violator and demand his papers! I was behind that plane on an intercept mission. First I had to force him to land. And if he does not comply, then render him harmless at any cost. I simply could not afford to entertain thoughts of anything else. Everything else, that I heard later, was just a words. Nothing else.

So I closed in and locked on to him with my radar. The missile lock on lights came on.

The foreign aircraft was flying at about 1,000 kilometer per hour. I was going faster. I had to match speeds. At about 13 kilometers from him, I reported, "Locked onto the target. Maintaining course. What next?"

Then the aircraft controller suddenly began asking for the course and altitude of the target... It should have been the other way around! Later it was explained that we had a entered dead zone that we had not known about.

"For a period of time, we couldn't see either you or him", the controller explained later on the ground.

Finally, we reached Sakhalin. And then the controller gave the order, "The target has violated the state border. Destroy the target..."

"I turned on the afterburner", relates the retired Colonel, "then the missile warhead lights began blinking. I reported to the ground - locked on to target. Then, suddenly I heard in my earphones:"

"Stop the attack. Climb to the target's altitude and force it to land."

"I was already approaching the intruder from below. After matching speed, I began flashing my lights, but he did not respond"

"Fire warning shots", came the command from the ground.

"I fired four bursts, more than 200 rounds. For all the good it did. After all, I was loaded with armour piercing shells, not incendiary shells. It's doubtful whether anyone could see them..."

"But, it was reported in our newspapers, quoting official sources, that you fired warning shots, namely incendiary, luminescent, tracer shells."

"That was wrong. I simply did not have any. So I fired armour piercing shells."

"However, in that case, (and this is exactly what the foreign experts maintained) the pilot of the unknown aircraft really could not see you."

"I have no doubt that they saw me. They noticed my blinking lights. The pilot's reaction left no doubt. They quickly lowered their speed. They were then flying at about 400 kilometers per hour. My speed was more than 400. I was simply unable to fly slower. In my opinion, the intruder's intentions were plain. If I did not want to go into a stall, I would be forced to overshoot them. That's exactly what happened. We had already flown over the island. It is narrow at that point. The target was about to get away. The the ground gave the command:"

"Destroy the target...!"

"That was easy to say. But how? With shells?! I had already expended 243 rounds. Ram it? I had always thought of that as rather poor taste. Ramming is the last resort. Just in case, I had already completed my turn and was coming down on top of him. Then, I had an idea. I dropped below him about 2,000 meters... afterburners. Switched on the missiles and brought the nose up sharply. Success! I have a lock on."

"The first missile was launched", continues the intercept pilot, "when the distance between us was about 5 kilometers. Only then could I really see the intruder. It was bigger that an IL-76, but its outline reminded me of a Tu-16. The trouble is that Soviet pilots do not study civilian aircraft of foreign companies. I knew all the military aircraft, all the reconnaissance... But that one did not look like any of them..."

"Did you have any doubts at that moment that you might have done something wrong?"

"I never thought for a minute that I would be shooting down a passenger aircraft. Anything but that! Could I admit to pursuing a "Boeing?"... At that time, I was seeing before me a large aircraft with flashing lights..."

"...The first missile hit him below the tail. There was a flash of yellow flame. The second carried away half the left wing. The flashing lights went out.

"At that point, the air was filled with an unimaginable din. I remember, that behind me, bringing up the rear, was a MiG-23. He was carrying external fuel tanks and couldn't fly fast. The pilot was constantly screeching:"

"I see the air battle! What battle was he seeing? I couldn't understand what he was talking about. (Could it be, that this very phrase, recorded on tape by Japanese specialists, was what threw off many investigators? This can't be proven yet. Author). After this, as soon as all the lights on the intruder went out, I turned to the right and heard them giving directions to the Mig for some reason."

Controller:

The target is going down.

He shouted, "I don't see him."

Again the controller:

The target is going down. Target altitude 5,000 meters.

I don't see it.

Then suddenly

The target has disappeared from the screen.

"I was still thinking that the plane I had shot was still flying. Later thay told me that it was just a fluke that the "Boeing" was destroyed by two missiles. It should have taken at least seven of the missile type I had on the Su-15 to bring it down.

On the way back, I looked at my instruments. The "cigarette butt" was already burning - the fuel emergency light. There was only enough fuel for ten minutes flight time. I had another 150 kilometers to go before I reached base. I finally made it back to the base, but as luck would have it, the airfield was covered by the "vynos" - the fog from the sea. But somehow I managed to land...

How were you greeted?

Like a hero. The whole regiment turned out. The youngsters were looking at me with envy. The older guys grabbed my by the lapels and said, "Lets have a bottle!"..." I remember, the regimental engineer embraced me, shook my hand and shouted, "Everything went well my find fellow!" In a word, there was a celebration. After all, it's not every day that we bring down an intruder. It's true that back on the ground I started getting a strange sense about the whole thing. When the division commander, Col Kornukhov called, I asked, "Is there any chance that it was one of ours?

"No.", he answered, "It was a foreigner, so make a hole in your shoulder boards for a new star."

This all took place on the morning of September the 1st.

"Then the unthinkable started. A commission arrived. Everyone started looking about me like I was some S.O.B. Except the boys in the regiment of course."

They asked me, "Did you know, that there were 260 passengers on board the aircraft?"

Afterwards, I was to hear this question many times. Much later, I went over and over what happened in my mind. I can honestly say, that I had no idea, that it was a passenger aircraft in front of me. I saw ahead of me a border violator that I had to destroy. During my time in the service, I had taken off on many intercept missions and dreamed of such a situation. I knew that if an intruder appeared, I would not let him get away. I even had a dream a few years earlier, which was very similar to what actually happened. To make sure no intruder escapes - that, if you like, is what a fighter pilot is all about."

"I repeat, all the talk about a civilian aircraft came later. At the time, it was an intruder in the sky. I remember my radio transmissions by heart. And you just showed me part of them. Take a look. There is not even a hint in them that there might have been passengers on that aircraft."

"But you still had problems..."

We have plenty of overly cautious people in our country. The army is no exception. And this was such a messy affair. I even heard that when one of our pilots shot down an American RB-47, he was at first locked up. He was released only after the investigation. And here we sat waiting for the government to make a decision. I was ready for anything. But soon Minister of Defense Ustinov phoned and everyone, as if on command, began smiling again. Reporters from Central Television arrived immediately. They were as angry as hell. They were supposed to be flying to Cuba, but here I was with my "Boeing...."

The higher ups sent me a "libretto", which I was supposed to spout in front of the camera. I started to read it, but the TV guy, Aleksandr Tikhomirov, made a face. It wouldn't do. He wanted to improvise.

I requested a break. Went back with the technicians. Drank a glass of vodka. And began speaking - about peace, about the atomic bomb... I could never speak so well now.

Later, they suggested I transfer to a new base. I requested the place, where I first began flying, where I was married. Everyone knew me there and I knew them. The Commander in Chief of the Air Forces gave me his plane. And I, like a white man, flew across the whole country to my new assignment.

I arrived. There was a stir. People were interested in talking with me. Everything is quiet now. But then... There were even poems, "From the east came a bro, He struck a terrible blow."

In general, the "Boeing" incident made things easier. They found an apartment for me and everything else. Once I went to the chief in charge of telephones. I submitted a request for a telephone in my apartment. He said, "Where are you from, commander, the moon? We have a five year waiting list." Then later, he suddenly recognized me, "Wait a minute. Who are you? Are you that guy? Bring your money tomorrow. You will get your telephone."

It's sad to recall that now..."

The Isvestia reporter notes that 'according to experts, from the height at which the Boeing-747 was flying, it took at least 10 minutes for the aircraft to fall to the sea. All passengers were fully conscious during those terrible minutes. The missile from our fighter destroyed the engine and the wing, but not the fuselage.'

It's thought that KAL007 drifted off course because its pilots mistakenly set the autopilot in "heading mode," which steers the aircraft based on compass readings and would have been inaccurate on a long Great Circle route. Preventing similar accidents was one of many arguments made in favor of the Global Positioning System under which all heavy commercial aircraft now fly.


This is the memorial to the victims of KAL 007 in Hokkaido, Japan. 11 body parts from the victims washed ashore here, though none could be identified. No belongings were ever returned from the Soviet Union to the passengers' families. The Soviet Union always denied finding any remains, when in truth a massive effort was made to find and retrieve the wreckage.

3 divers in the salvage effort, Grigorij Matveenko, Vladimir K., and Vadim Kondrabayev, were interviewed for the Isvestia report.

"No, no one asked us to recover any remains, only equipment, tapes, documents, and the black box. True, they did not show us a black box, but the described how it should look. So we brought up various boxes which met the description... We brought up some Boeing parts, the skin of the aircraft. There was a piece of aircraft skin with a symbol on it - a circle and two commas. You probably know such two commas, which fit together in the circle. (the emblem of the Korean airline company KAL). They brought up a life raft. There was a good knife. On the whole there was little time for sorting through stuff on the bottom. In some places metal scrap was a meter and a half deep, a real junk pile! The bottom would look flat and empty, then all of a sudden there would be the landing gear or a bra, and then nothing. Then once again a large piece. Again a pile, like on a rubbish pile... Exactly like a junk pile. Pieces of metal, rags, wires. You begin to dig and there are things, more things... Children's things too. I remember once finding a pouch, you know, the kind they carry babies in, like a rucksack and feeling a shock like a jolt of electricity. And of course adult items too. A lot of women's underwear, some documents, suitcases. Equipment such as tape recorders, cassette decks. But they were crushed as if by a sledge hammer"

The Soviet Union found and held onto the planes 2 'black boxes' in secret for ten years. It refused to co-operate in the official investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which took 12 years to complete. The Russian Government still ignores requests for information on the fate of bodies and belongings, although the International Air Crash Victims Family Group reports that citizens on Sakhalin Island have offered visiting Japanese families objects from KAL 007 in return for payment - in U.S. dollars.

There were several instances of 'friendly fire' in which Soviet interceptors shot down other Soviet aircraft in error and at least two well documented cases in which Su-15s attacked foriegn commercial planes. Another Korean Air plane, Flight 902, had been attacked over Murmansk by a PVO Su-15 just five years before in 1978. Again the civilian aircraft survived the missile hit, again it subsequently crashed, killing two passengers. In 1981 a Baku, Azerbaijan-based Su-15 rammed an Iranian Canadair CL-44, apparently as a deliberate attack.

Although a great deal of newsprint was wasted on airing baseless conspiracy theories blaming the USA for the tragedy, few newspapers bothered to report the truth when the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed it to be aired. This piece by James Oberg from the American Spectator in 1993 is one of the few articles which set the record straight.

Other information is from this 1997 CIA report about the '83 'war scare'. Isvestia published this account by Andrej Illesh, in 1991. This features a frank interview with Lt Col Gennadij Nikolaevich Osipovich, the pilot who shot down the airliner, but again has been largely ignored in the west.

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