On 1 September 1983, a Korean Airlines 747, carrying 269 people, is shot down while flying through Soviet airspace.
Flight 007 also known as KAL007 was a scheduled Korean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage, Alaska
Korean Air Lines flight 007 from New York to Seoul (after
Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor.
Air Crash Investigations Flight KAL 007
Everyone on board is killed, including 61 Americans. Twenty-three casualties were children under the age of twelve. The Soviets claim the plane was on a spy mission and that their actions were justified.
FS2004 – Target is Destroyed (Korean Air Lines Flight 007)
Murray Sayle, writing in the New York Review of Books, tells what happened next:
While the Soviet fighter was astern of him, KE007 called Tokyo Air Traffic Control, asked for and was given permission for a “step-climb,” normal at the end of a long flight when the aircraft has burned off most of its fuel and can fly both higher and faster. A few seconds later the fighter, evidently on instructions from the ground, reports, “I have broken off lock-on. I am firing cannon bursts.” The fighter was clearly making a hasty attempt at the Soviet interception procedure-wing waggling, firing tracer bullets, and calling on the emergency frequency-with no sign of response.
The fighter saw but misinterpreted KE007’s step-climb, reporting, according to the air-to-ground transcripts: “The target is decreasing speed. I am going around it. I am already in front of the target.” This is evidently some sort of maneuver intended to attract “the target’s” attention, but it is brief. Twenty-four seconds later the fighter tells his ground controller: “It should have been earlier. How can I chase it, I am already abeam of the target [meaning that the fighter is flying alongside KE007, level with the airliner’s wing-tip light, and all but invisible from the 747’s cockpit]. Now I have to fall back a bit.”
Just one minute later, the pilot radios back: “I have executed the launch. The target is destroyed.” The radio communication from that day gives no indication the Soviet pilot knew it was a civilian airliner he was firing upon.
Despite the heated public rhetoric, many Soviets and American officials and analysts privately agreed that the incident was simply a tragic misunderstanding. The KAL flight had veered into a course that was close to one being simultaneously flown by a U.S. spy plane; perhaps Soviet radar operators mistook the two. In the Soviet Union, several of the military officials responsible for air defense in the Far East were fired or demoted. It has never been determined how the KAL flight ended up nearly 200 miles off course.
As a result of the incident, the United States altered tracking procedures for aircraft departing from Alaska. The interface of the autopilot used on airliners was redesigned to make it more ergonomic. In addition, the incident was one of the most important events that prompted the Reagan administration to allow worldwide access to the United States Global Positioning System (GPS).