Allegedly accidentally shot down due to Cold War era tensions between the then Soviet Union and the West – is this 30-year old tragic incident still an unresolved mystery?
By: Ringo Bones
Back in September 1, 1983, a supposedly routine commercial flight of a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet designated Flight 007 in an “alleged attempt” by its flight captain to save fuel, inadvertently strayed close to the then Soviet era airspace over the Kamchatka Peninsula that got it shot down by a MiG-23 Flogger patrolling the area. 30 years on, is the incident still truly an unresolved tragic mystery of Cold War era politics?
Korean Air Lines Flight 007’s itinerary is a commercially scheduled New York to Seoul flight almost filled to capacity with paying civilian passengers. After stopping for a routine refueling and airworthiness once-overs in Anchorage, Alaska, the flight captain’s “alleged” route that made the flight accidentally stray into Soviet airspace would only save the airline company 1,500 to 3,000 US dollars of aviation fuel so investigators back then were baffled by the flight captain’s decision to fly such a risky route in what was back then the most contentious airspaces of the Cold War.
According to the then Soviet Union government’s defense, the MiG-23 Flogger and the Su-15 fighter planes that were at the time doing routine patrols in the Soviet controlled airspace of the Kamchatka Peninsula were instructed to shadow the KAL Flight 007 Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet after it showed on the Soviet air defense radar in that area. According to the Soviet authorities back then, for a number of years, a number of US Air Force RC-135 – a reconnaissance version of the KC-135 Stratotanker – were caught straying into the then Soviet controlled airspaces of the Kamchatka Peninsula and more often than not the radar signature of a typical Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet full of civilian passengers is virtually indistinguishable from a US Air Force operated RC-135 reconnaissance plane. Thus the two Soviet era jet fighters were sent to “shadow” the KAL Flight 007 747 Jumbo Jet in order to visually verify if it is an American spy plane doing clandestine reconnaissance or just a civilian airline flight that accidentally strayed into the then Soviet airspace.
Unfortunately despite the two Soviet planes being equipped with – for at the time – the latest in Soviet era night-vision equipment that could allegedly allow the pilot to read the airline company’s insignia and “nose-art / fuselage-art” from up to 40 miles away just illuminated solely by ambient starlight; it didn’t prevent the two Soviet planes from accidentally shot down the Korean Air Lines plane with their main compliment of air-to-air missiles after the flight captain allegedly ignored the tracer rounds fired by the MiG-23 and Su-15 pilots as a warning shot to return back to international airspace.
Despite of the tragic incident, the shooting down of the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 over Soviet airspace back in September 1, 1983 prompted the then US President Ronald Reagan to allow the US Department of Defense for civilian airlines around the world to avail of their Global Positioning System satellite navigation system to avoid a repeat of the tragic incident. But still a lot of the facts that lead to the tragic incident were still much a mystery 30 years on.