Friday, August 22, 2008

The tragedy of KAL 007

I'll start this off with a bad joke, and I hope you'll forgive me. No offense is intended, and I mention it because it's my own reminder for the other tragedy in 1983. Here goes:

Ferdinand Marcos, calling up the Soviet premier: "Andropov, you idiot! I said C-A-L on the 21st, not K-A-L on the 31st!"

A little black humor there, but trust the Filipinos to come up with zingers like these until eternity.

Anyway, that's why I remember KAL 007. On September 1, 1983, a Korean Airlines passenger jet wandered off into Soviet airspace and was shot down by MiG. All 269 people onboard, including a US congressman, were killed.

More from the Wikipedia:

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was a commercial Boeing 747-230B (Serial Number CN20559/186, registration: HL7442, formerly D-ABYH[4], was previously operated by Condor Airlines) flying from New York City, United States to Seoul, South Korea. The aircraft—piloted by Chun Byung-in[5]—departed Gate 15, 35 minutes behind its scheduled departure time of 11:50 P.M. local time[6], and took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on August 31. After refueling at Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, the aircraft departed for Seoul while carrying 240 passengers and 29 crew at 13:00 GMT (3:00 AM local time) on September 1. KAL 007 flew westward and then turned south on a course for Seoul-Kimpo International Airport that took it much farther west than planned, cutting across the Soviet Kamchatka Peninsula and then over the Sea of Okhotsk towards Sakhalin, violating Soviet airspace more than once.

It was the practice of Korean Air Lines to sometimes delay a flight so that it would not arrive at Kimpo Airport in Seoul prior to 6:00 a.m., as customs and passenger handling personnel began their operations at that time. Accordingly, 007 was delayed one hour because of strong tail winds, departing Anchorage International Airport at 13:00 GMT (4:00 a.m. Alaskan time). Climbing, the jumbo jet turned left, seeking its assigned route J501, which would soon take it onto the northernmost of five 50-mile (80 km) wide passenger plane air corridors that bridge the Alaskan and Japanese coasts. These five corridors are called the NOPAC (North Pacific) routes. KAL 007’s particular corridor, Romeo 20, passed just 17 1/2 miles from Soviet airspace off the Kamchatka coast.

At about 10 minutes after take-off, KAL 007 began to deviate to the right (north) of its assigned route. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) analysis of the flight data recorder provides no reason for this deviation.

Soviet air defense units had been tracking the aircraft for more than an hour while it entered and left Soviet airspace over the Kamchatka Peninsula. Soviet aircraft had initially tried to contact the pilot of the aircraft by radio and by making visual contact. When this failed, the pilot of the lead aircraft reported firing rounds from his machine guns in four 30-round bursts, but the pilot of KAL 007 still failed to respond. The order to shoot down the airliner was given as it was about to leave Soviet airspace for the second time after flying over Sakhalin Island. The lead aircraft of two Su-15 Flagon interceptors scrambled from Dolinsk-Sokol airbase fired two air to air missiles around 18:26 GMT,[11] and shot down KAL 007. The airliner crashed into the sea north of Moneron Island, killing all on board. It was probably downed in international airspace,[12] although the intercepting pilot stated otherwise in a subsequent interview. Initial reports that the airliner had been forced to land on Sakhalin were soon proved false. Transcripts recovered from the airliner's cockpit voice recorder indicate that the crew were unaware that they were off course and violating Soviet airspace (at the end they were 500 kilometres to the west of the planned track). After the missile strike, the aircraft began to descend from 18:26 until 18:31 when it leveled out at 16,424 ft (5,006 m). (The end of the cockpit voice recorder recording [18:27:46] was prior to its leveling out). After almost 5 minutes of level flight, 18:31-18:35, the aircraft began to descend from that level [13]in a spiral descent over Moneron Island. At the time of the attack, the plane had been cruising at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (11,000 m). Capt. Chun was able to turn off the autopilot (18:26:46) and it is unknown whether he was able to regain control[14] as the aircraft spiraled toward the ocean.

1 comment:

  1. The US Congressman on board was Larry McDonald. He was born in Atlanta and represented the Congressional district where I live. He was very conservative and a staunch anti-communist. There are conspiracy minded folks who believe the plane was shot down to get him.