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Korean Air Flight 7

Korean Air Flight 7 (KAL007, KE007) was the flight number of a civilian airliner shot down by Soviet fighters on September 1, 1983, after flying over Sakhalin Island.

The USSR called the flyover a violation of its airspace and declared that such a violation justified shooting down the plane and killing its 269 passengers and crew.

The policy of the United States (prior to September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks) and most other countries is not to shoot down errant civilian airliners, even if they fly directly over a military base. Accordingly, the shoot-down attracted a storm of protest in the United States and from many people in Europe.

Table of contents
1 Chronology
2 Theories
3 See Also
4 External links


Korean Air Lines KE007 was a commercial Boeing 747 flying from New York, New York to Gimpo, South Korea. It took off from New York's John F. Kennedy International 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 southwards for Seoul-Kimpo International Airport, now Gimpo Airport but at a course (245 degrees) that would take the craft much further westwards than usual, cutting across the Kamchatka peninsula and then over the Sea of Okhotsk towards Sakhalin.

Improbably, the pilots did not notice that they were 500 kilometers off course and violating Soviet airspace. KAL had violated Soviet's airspace before, in April 1978 a Korean Airlines Boeing 707 had flown over Murmansk and had been forced to land.

As the aircraft approached and then 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 local time. 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.

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 a "act of barbarism... [of] inhuman brutality". The next day, the Soviet Union admitted to shooting down KLA-007, stating that the pilots did not know it was a civilian aircraft when it violated Soviet airspace. The attack pulled relations between the United States of America and the Soviet Union to a new low.

An International Civil Aviation Organization investigation 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". It is believed that the airliner was briefly on a matching course close to a USAF RC-135 northeast of Kamchatka and as the aircraft diverged the Soviet radar tracked one signal heading away and one coming dangerously close.

It was known that the USSR could attack without warning overflights of the area but the confusion and the non-compliance with standards for interception reflected poorly on the Russian military.


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 did crash.

The most interesting 'off course' theory is that the flight was part of a deliberate US intelligence gathering effort. 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, 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 aboard the airliner never announced a mayday despite there being two further communications from the 747. The amount of material recovered from the accident compares unfavourably with other crashes of roughly equal magnitude as does the type of material retrieved. That only two bodies were recovered, relatively intact, is also surprisingly low. All searches, either by the Soviets, Japanese or Americans were ended in early November, 1983.

The 'no crash' theorists do not go to explain why the plane was off-course, or why the Soviets would want to hold onto 260 or so airline passengers, except through the far-fetched claim that they were targeting a single passenger and felt it was necessary to keep all of the other people in captivity to conceal this.

See Also

External links