Korean Air Flight 007

From Academic Kids

Korean Air Flight 007 (KAL007, KE007) was the flight number of a civilian airliner shot down by Soviet fighters on September 1, 1983, over international waters just west of Sakhalin island, killing all 269 passengers and crew.

The USSR said it was justified in shooting down the aircraft since it must have been on an espionage mission. The shoot-down attracted a storm of protest in the United States and from many people in Europe.



Korean Air Lines KE007 was a commercial Boeing 747 (registration: HL7442) flying from New York to Seoul's at-the-time main international airport in Gimpo, South Korea. It took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on August 31 carrying 246 passengers and 23 crew. After refueling at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska the aircraft took off, flying eastwards and then arching southwards on a course for Seoul-Kimpo International Airport (now Gimpo Airport) but at a course (245 degrees magnetic) that would take the craft much further westward than usual, cutting across the Kamchatka Peninsula and then over the Sea of Okhotsk towards Sakhalin.

Based on cockpit voice recordings released many years later, the pilots apparently did not notice that they were off course and violating Soviet airspace (at the end they were 500 kilometers to the right of the planned track). KAL had violated Soviet airspace before, in April 1978 a Korean Airlines Boeing 707 had flown over the Kola Penninsula (northwestern Russia) and after a Soviet fighter fired missiles at it, killing two passengers, it crash landed on a frozen lake. An investigation into the possible cause of that navigation error was frustrated by the Soviet refusal to release the aircraft's data recorders. Other commercial airliners had made course errors of comparable size from time to time, but not over the USSR.

It is generally believed that the airliner was mistaken for a USAF (United States Air Force) RC-135 that was flying a routine electronic intelligence mission northeast of Kamchatka at about the same time. The primary long-range radar systems were not operational at the time, so as the RC-135 flew on its "racetrack" course it would appear on the inbound leg, turn around, and then disappear again. This pattern repeated several times, until, in what appears to be a terrible coincidence, Flight 007 flew inbound on a track very close to the RC-135's inbound leg at roughly the time the plane should have re-appeared on their radars. This time the radar contact did not turn outbound again, giving the Soviet forces what they may have believed was a rare opportunity to intercept one of these annoying spy planes. Nor would this be the first time: the US routinely conducted Burning Wind SIGINT/COMINT flights to test the USSRs air defense systems, and lost several planes on such missions, but not for decades.

As the aircraft, still on a constant heading and speed (not characteristic of any previous deliberate intrusion) approached and overflew Soviet territory, Su-15 and MiG-23 fighters were scrambled. Two Sukhoi Su-15s from Dolinsk-Sokol airbase intercepted and shot down the airliner with a single missile attack at 18.26 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The airliner crashed into the sea about 55 km off Moneron Island killing all on board. Initial reports that the airliner had been forced to land on Sakhalin were soon proved false. CVR (cockpit voice recorder) transcripts recovered from the airliner show the crew undertaking an emergency spiral descent due to rapid decompression from 18.26 until the end of the recording at 18.27:46, but the Soviets withheld any knowledge that they had recovered the data recorders and they were only released after the Yeltsin regime took power in an independent Russia.

Two International Civil Aviation Organization investigations were made, the first soon after the accident and the second after the data recorders were released in 1991. Both concluded that the course taken was accidental: a result of the autopilot being either left in heading mode or having been switched to INS when outside of the range for the INS to capture the correct track. This left the airliner proceeding on the constant magnetic heading chosen when the craft left Anchorage. The crew did not notice this error or undertake the correct INS checks to discover it later due to a "lack of situational awareness and flight deck co-ordination".

The closest witness to the incident, the Soviet pilot who fired the missile, would later confirm that international standards for interception were not followed but that he had been instructed by military authorities to lie on television about firing warning shots. The Soviet side officially maintained that they made radio calls, but KAL 007 did not reply; however, no other aircraft or ground monitors covering those emergency frequencies ever heard any Soviet radio calls.

Public outcry

Ronald Reagan condemned the shooting down on September 5, calling it the "Korean airline massacre", a "crime against humanity [that] must never be forgotten" and an "act of barbarism... [of] inhuman brutality". The next day, the Soviet Union admitted to shooting down KAL-007, stating that the pilots did not know it was a civilian aircraft when it violated Soviet airspace. The attack pushed relations between the United States of America and the Soviet Union to a new low.

The Reagan administration successfully turned the incident into a propaganda coup. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, made an audio-visual presentation in the Security Council using tapes of the Soviet radio conversations and a map of the plane's flight path to depict the shoot-down as viciously savage and unjustified.


As with any serious disaster a number of conspiracy theories have arisen. The theorists' main concerns are why the airliner was off course and even whether it crashed.

The most interesting 'off course' theory is that the flight was part of a deliberate US intelligence gathering effort. KAL was originally a CIA proprietary. USAF wanted to use a civilian plane as 'bait' to test the Soviet reaction to an incursion inside their borders. The flight took them within a few hundred miles of two Soviet military bases on Kamchatka and on the island of Sakhalin. 15 minutes behind KAL007 in international airspace was another civilian plane, KAL015, which relayed KAL007's messages to ground control. Theorists alleged that there were too many inconsistencies with normal procedure for this whole incident to have been accidental.

The theories claiming KAL-007 did not crash relate to a number of issues. It is claimed to be unlikely that a single missile would knock a 747 out of the air, as the loss of a single engine is not catastrophic for such a craft. Reports of the crash put the time from missile strike to sea impact at around twelve minutes, which is high for an uncontrolled descent. The crew, although they did not report a mayday, did allegedly announce that they were "noncontrol," or out of control, in two further communications from the 747. However, the radio calls, confirmed years later by the actual cockpit recorder, actually shows the aircraft reporting a depressurization and rapid descent.

The amount of material recovered from the accident was said to compare unfavourably with other crashes of 747 aircraft as did the type of material retrieved. That only two bodies were recovered, relatively intact, was also surprisingly low to some, although most human remains on the sea floor at the crash site would have been subject to aggressive cuttlefish feeding.

The 'no crash' theories do not attempt to explain why the plane was off-course, or why the Soviets would want to hold onto 260 or so airline passengers, except a claim that they were targeting a single passenger -- Larry McDonald, the only US Congressman ever killed by the Soviet Union, and a far right political leader -- and felt it was necessary to keep all of the other people in captivity to conceal this. Nor do they explain how the flight recorders ended up in the ocean.

The resolution of the puzzle came in 1991 when the hitherto-concealed voice and data recorders were released by Moscow, confirming the original professional accident investigation judgments that overconfident carelessness allowed a simple navigation error to go undetected and that Soviet failure to properly attempt communication with the crew, and urgency to stop the flight as it was passing out of Soviet airspace, led to the tragedy. Although conspiracy theories still linger here and there on the Internet, the 'unanswered questions' of this case have long been settled to the satisfaction of airliner operations experts.

See also

External links

  • Template:Imdb title
  • The Ballad of Flight 007 (http://www.inkpenpublishing.com/subsite/ballad.htm)
  • The International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors, Inc. (http://www.rescue007.org)
  • KAL 007 Mystery (http://www.insightmag.com/main.cfm?include=detail&storyid=213472)
  • Flight KAL 007 (http://www.thenewamerican.com/focus/mcdonald/kal/index.htm)
  • Rep. Lawrence P. McDonald (http://www.thenewamerican.com/focus/mcdonald/)
  • PUT IT TO PUTIN (http://www.aim.org/publications/aim_report/2001/21.html)
  • Passengers of KAL Flight 007 Survive in Russia (http://www.aim.org/publications/briefings/2002/jun24.html)
  • [1] (http://www.jamesoberg.com/kal-007.html)
  • Interview with Soviet pilot who shot down plane (http://users.rcn.com/lana.interport/link/colonel.html)
  • Pre-shootdown photo of HL7442 (http://images.airliners.net/open.file?id=314989&WxsIERv=Obrvat%20747-230O&WdsYXMg=Xberna%20Nve%20Yvarf&QtODMg=Mhevpu%20%28-%20Xybgra%29%20%28MEU%20%2F%20YFMU%29&ERDLTkt=Fjvgmreynaq&ktODMp=Znl%2025%2C%201980&BP=1&WNEb25u=Treuneq%20Cybzvgmre&xsIERvdWdsY=UY7442&MgTUQtODMgKE=Svefg%20ba%20nveyvaref.arg%3A%20Guvf%20nvepensg%20bcrengrq%20XNY%20007%2C%20juvpu%20jnf%20fubg%20qbja%20ol%20gur%20Ehffvnaf%20bire%20Funxunyva%20Vfynaq%20ba%201.9.1983.%20Nvepensg%20vf%20rk%20Q-NOLU%20bcrengrq%20ol%20Pbaqbe.&YXMgTUQtODMgKERD=7914&NEb25uZWxs=2003-01-28%2000%3A00%3A00&ODJ9dvCE=&O89Dcjdg=20559%2F186&static=yes&width=1024&height=669&sok=JURER%20%20%28ZNGPU%20%28nvepensg%2Cnveyvar%2Ccynpr%2Ccubgb_qngr%2Cpbhagel%2Cerznex%2Ccubgbtencure%2Crznvy%2Clrne%2Cert%2Cnvepensg_trarevp%2Cpa%2Cpbqr%29%20NTNVAFG%20%28%27%2B%22UY7442%22%27%20VA%20OBBYRNA%20ZBQR%29%29%20%20BEQRE%20OL%20cubgb_vq%20QRFP&photo_nr=3&prev_id=365811&next_id=NEXTID)ja:大韓航空機撃墜事件



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