Korean Air Lines Flight 007, also known as KAL 007, was a Korean Air Lines civilian airliner shot down by Soviet jet interceptors on September 1, 1983 just west of Sakhalin island. 269 passengers and crew, including US congressman Lawrence McDonald, were aboard KAL 007; there were no known survivors.
The aircraft had entered into Soviet airspace. The Soviet Union stated it did not believe the aircraft was civilian and it was a deliberate provocation by the United States, the purpose being to test its military response capabilities, repeating the incursion of Korean Air Flight 902, also shot down by Soviet aircraft over the Kola Peninsula in 1978.
The incident attracted a storm of protest from across the world, particularly from the United States.
The flight attendants included fourteen women and twelve men. 12 passengers occupied the upper deck first class, while in business almost all of 24 seats were taken. In economy class almost 80 seats had no passengers. 130 passengers planned to connect to other destinations such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; they flew Korean Air Lines due to its fares.
|75 passengers, 23 crew|
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.
At 28 minutes after take-off, civilian radar at Kenai, on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet and southwest of Anchorage, with a radar coverage of west of Anchorage, tracked KAL 007 north of where it should have been. Where it should have been was a location “fixed” by the nondirectional radio beacon (NDB) of Cairne Mountain.
KAL 007 continued on its night journey, having previously received clearance (13:02:40 GMT) to proceed “direct Bethel” when able. Bethel is a small fishing village on the western tip of Alaska, west of Anchorage. It is the last U.S. mainland navigational point. When KAL 007 did not make Bethel at 50 minutes after takeoff, military radar at King Salmon, Alaska, tracked KAL 007 at a full north of where it should have been. It had exceeded its permissible leeway of deviation sixfold, 2 nm of error being the permissible drift from a course set by INS).
Halfway between waypoint NABIE in its Inertial Navigation System (INS) guided flight, and not yet having reached its next required reporting waypoint, NEEVA, KAL 007 passed through the southern portion of the United States Air Force NORAD (North American Air Defense) buffer zone. This zone, monitored intensively by U.S. Intelligence assets, lies north of Romeo 20, KAL 007’s designated air route, and is off-limits to civilian aircraft. KAL 007 was apparently undetected—or, if detected, unreported.
KAL 007 continued its night journey, ever increasing its deviation — off course at waypoint NABIE, off course at waypoint NUKKS, and off course at waypoint NEEVA — until it penetrated Kamchatka’s borders.
At 15:51 GMT, according to Soviet sources, KAL 007 “bumped” the Soviet buffer zone of Kamchatka Peninsula. The buffer zone extended 200 km from Kamchatka’s coast and is technically known as a Flight Information Region (FIR). The 200 km buffer zone is counterpart to the United States’ Aerospace Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), but the 100 km radius of the buffer zone nearest to Soviet territory had the additional designation of Air Defense Zone. Heightened surveillance measures would be taken against any non-Soviet aircraft entering the Air Defense Zone.
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, 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, 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 . (The end of the cockpit voice recorder recording [18:27:46] was before its leveling out). After almost five minutes of level flight, 18:31–18:35, the aircraft began to descend from that level in a spiral descent over Moneron Island. At the time of the attack, the plane had been cruising at an altitude of about . Capt. Chun was able to turn off the autopilot (18:26:46) and it is unknown whether he was able to regain control as the aircraft spiraled toward the ocean.
Osipovich: (18:22:02) The target is decreasing speed.
Osipovich: (18:22:17) I am going around it. I’m already moving in front of the target.
Titovnin: Increase speed, 805 [call sign of Osipovich’s Sukhoi].
Osipovich: (18:22:23) I have increased speed.
Titovnin: Has the target increased speed, yes?
Osipovich: (18:22:29) No, it is decreasing speed.
Titovnin: 805, open fire on target.
Osipovich: (18:22:42) It should have been earlier. How can I chase it? I’m already abeam of the target.
Titovnin: Roger, if possible, take up a position for attack.
Osipovich: (18:22:55) Now I have to fall back a bit from the target.
Gen. Kornukov: Oh, [obscenities] how long does it take him to get into attack position, he is already getting out into neutral waters. Engage afterburner immediately. Bring in the MiG 23 as well... While you are wasting time it will fly right out.
Titovnin: 805, try to destroy the target with cannons.
Osipovich: (18:22:37) I am dropping back. Now I will try a rocket.
MiG 23 (163): (18:23:49) Twelve kilometers to the target. I see both [the Soviet interceptor piloted by Osipovich and KAL 007].
Titovnin: 805, approach target and destroy target.
Osipovich: (18:24:22) Roger, I am in lock-on.
Titovnin: 805, are you closing on the target?
Osipovich: (18:25:11) I am closing on the target, am in lock-on. Distance to target is eight kilometers.
Titovnin: AFTERBURNER, 805!
Osipovich: (18:25:16) I have already switched it on.
Osipovich: (18:26:20) I have executed the launch.
Osipovich: (18:26:22) The target is destroyed.
Titovnin: Break off attack to the right, heading 360.
Osipovich: (18:26:27) I am breaking off attack.
"From the flashing lights and the configuration of the windows, he recognized the aircraft as a civilian type of plane, he said. 'I saw two rows of windows and knew that this was a Boeing,' he said. 'I knew this was a civilian plane. But for me this meant nothing. It is easy to turn a civilian type of plane into one for military use.'... Osipovich also revealed that in the pressure of the moment, he did not provide a full description of the intruder to Soviet ground controllers. 'I did not tell the ground that it was a Boeing-type plane,' he recalled. 'They did not ask me.' He did, however, tell Soviet ground controllers that the plane had blinking lights on, which he says was an indication that it could be a transport plane."
This omission of the identity of KAL 007 as a Boeing by Osipovich is confirmed by ground personnel to the Combat controller, Lt. Col. Titovnin:
Titovnin: The commander has given orders that if the border is violated—destroy [the target].
Maistrenko: ...May [be] a passenger [aircraft]. All necessary steps must be taken to identify it.
Titovnin: Identification measures are being taken, but the pilot cannot see. It’s dark. Even now it’s still dark.
Maistrenko: Well, okay. The task is correct. If there are no lights—it cannot be a passenger [aircraft].
It is clear that attack was made on the intruder plane not because it was considered a continuing threat, but because it would soon escape into neutral waters.
Kornukov: Oh, [obscenities] how long does it take him [Maj. Osipovich in his Su-15] to get into attack position. He is already getting out into neutral waters. Engage afterburner immediately.Bring in the MiG 23 as well...While you are wasting time, it will fly right out.
This ICAO graphing of the deciphered Digital Flight Data Recorder of KAL 007's first minute and 44 seconds of post attack flight shows the regaining of control by Capt Chun. Following the "altitude" and "pitch" lines, Captain Chun's regaining of control is evident through the immediate 113 second arc upward and dive downward, then the 10 second pull-up taking KAL 007 to pre-missile attack altitude, and then beginning the gradual descent. Note the sharp decrease in "acceleration" as Capt. Chun levels off from the pull up – belying the media descriptions that KAL 007 uncontrollably "plunged", "dived", "hurtled down", "cartwheeled", etc., to its destruction immediately after being hit by missiles. (Minutes and seconds in GMT added at bottom)
On September 1, Secretary of State George Shultz had stated: "At 1826 hours the Soviet pilot reported that he fired a missile and the target was destroyed. At 1830 hours [or 4 minutes later] the Korean aircraft was reported by radar 5,000 meters [16,424 feet]. At 1838 hours [12 minutes after being hit] the Korean plane disappeared from the radar screen."
The mystery of the disparity in time was solved by the handover by the Russian Federation of the Black Box and the real time Russian military communications of the shootdown. KAL 007 had not "plummeted" down after the attack. It had gradually descended for 4 minutes after the attack and then leveled off at 16,424 feet (18:30–31 GMT), and at this altitude continued its post-attack flight for almost 5 minutes (18:35 GMT) and only then did it continue a descent in spirals until being tracked at 1,000 feet above sea level and 2.6 miles from Moneron Island.
The following military phone communications support this radar tracking of the attaining of KAL 007 of level flight for almost 5 minutes before beginning its spiral descent over Moneron Island.
Gen. Kornukov (18:32): Tell the 23 [MiG]... afterburner. Open fire, destroy the target, then land at home base.
Lt. Col. Gerasimenko (acting commander, 41st Fighter Regiment, viewing radar): Roger
Kornukov: Altitude... What is the altitude of our fighter and the altitude of the target? Quickly. The altitude of the target and the altitude of the fighter! ...Why don't you say anything? Gerasimenko!
Gerasimenko (18:33): Gerasimenko. Altitude of target is 5,000.
Kornukov: 5,000 already?
Gerasimenko (18:34): Affirmative, turning left, right, apparently it is descending.
Marshal of the Soviet Union and Chief of General Staff, Nikolai Ogarkov, 9 days after the shootdown, would deny knowledge of where KAL 007 had gone down, "We could not give the precise answer about the spot where it [KAL 007] fell because we ourselves did not know the spot in the first place. But nine years after, the Russian Federation handover of the Soviet military communications would show that within minutes of KAL 007's contact with the water, at least two documented Search and Rescue (SAR) missions were ordered to the last Soviet verified location for the descending jumbo jet – Moneron Island. Moneron is just 4 1/2 miles long and 3/12 miles wide due west of Sakhalin Island; the only land mass in the whole Tatar straits.
18:47 GMT – Lt. Col Novoseletski, Fighter Division Acting Chief of Staff, Smirnykh Air Base:
"Prepare whatever helicopters there are. Rescue helicopters." Lt. Col. Titovnin: "Rescue?, " Novoseletski: "Yes. And there will probably be a task set for the area where the target was lost."
18:55 GMT – General Strogov, Deputy Commander for the Soviet Far East Military District:
"The border guards. What ships do we now have near Moneron Island, if they are civilians, send [them] there immediately.
Soviet ships headed for the anticipated set down site prior to KAL 007 reaching the surface of the sea. Izvestia testimony of a Soviet Naval Specialist – "When we learned that the aircraft had been attacked, and that weapons had been used, we began to analyse when it might possibly come down. Ships were ordered to the anticipated area. Several ships headed there at once at full speed..."
From early in September until the beginning of November, the US with the Japanese and South Koreans carried out joint Search and Rescue and then Search and Salvage operations. These missions met with increasingly hostile interference by the Soviets. These harassments and hostile activities, all in violation of the 1972 Incident at Sea agreement, included the following: false flag and fake light signals, sending an armed boarding party to threaten to board a U.S. chartered Japanese auxiliary vessel (blocked by U.S. warship interposition), moving U.S. sonars, setting false "pingers" in deep international waters, sending Backfire bombers armed with air-to-surface nuclear-armed missiles to threaten U.S. naval units, and radar lock-ons by a Soviet missile cruiser and a destroyer targeting U.S. naval vessels.
Here is the chronicalling of the hostile interference:
7 September - The USS Elliot’s helicopter harassed by Soviet aircraft.
15 September - The USNS Narragansett reported hazardous maneuvering by the Soviet ship Alpinist.
18 September - The Narragansett harassed by the Pegus.
19 September - USNS Conserver operations met with interference from the Gavril Sarychev. The USS Sterrett met with interference from the Pegus.
23 September - The near collision of the USS Callaghan and the Gavril Sarychev.
27 September - The Kashin class destroyer no. 660 interfered with the flight of a U.S. Navy helicopter. Radar lock-ons of U.S. Navy ships by the Kara class cruiser Petropavlovsk and the Kashin class destroyer Odarennyy.
10 October - Soviet ship brandished weapons at Japanese vessel Kaiko Maru No.3 attempting to recover locator buoy.
26 October - Soviet combatants criss-crossed in front of the USS Tower and the Conserver.
The fragments from the proximity fused R-98 medium range air-to-air missile exploding 50 meters behind the tail caused punctures to the pressurized passenger cabin. All the punctures together amounted to a total of , too small, even together, for anyone to be blown out by decompression. This was determined by the 11 seconds it took for the air to begin rushing out of the cabin before the alarm was set off picked up by the Cockpit Voice Recorder
There may well have been wounded or dead in the rear section struck by missile fragments, but there was a sufficient supply of oxygen for breathing. Aviation Specialist Dr. Malcolm Brenner, commenting on the occupants of KAL 007,: “Crew members and passengers would have about one minute of expected useful consciousness unless they successfully began receiving oxygen from an oxygen mask.” Well within that critical “one minute of expected useful consciousness,” the oxygen masks had already deployed and, because of the upward pitch of the aircraft’s nose for most of its ascent leg of the 1 minute and 13 second arc upward, the masks were drifting back toward or behind the heads of the passengers.
Beginning at 6:26:34, thirty-two seconds after missile detonation, the following consecutive messages were broadcast over the public address system in English, Korean, and Japanese: “Attention, Emergency Descent. Put out your cigarette. This is an Emergency Descent. Put the mask on your nose and mouth and adjust the headbands.” When one of the flight crew radioed Tokyo Airport, one minute and two seconds after missile detonation, his breathing was already "accentuated" indicating to ICAO analysts that he was speaking through the microphone located in his oxygen mask, "Korean Air 007 ah... We are... Rapid compressions. Descend to 10,000.”
Two expert witnesses testified at a Court of Appeals trial on the issue of pre-death pain and suffering. Captain James McIntyre, an experienced Boeing 747 pilot and aircraft accident investigator, testified that Flight 007's tail was struck by shrapnel from a proximity missile. This shrapnel probably caused a hole smaller than two feet in diameter, resulting in decompression but leaving the passengers sufficient time to don oxygen masks. "McIntyre testified that, based upon his estimate of the extent of damage the aircraft sustained, all passengers survived the initial impact of the shrapnel from the missile explosion. In McIntyre's expert opinion, at least twelve minutes elapsed between the impact of the shrapnel and the crash of the plane, and the passengers remained conscious throughout.
The Hydraulics: KAL 007 had four redundant hydraulic systems of which systems 1, 2, and 3 were damaged or out. There was no evidence of damage to system 4. The hydraulics provided actuation for all the primary flight controls; all secondary flight controls (except leading edge flaps); and landing gear retraction, extension, gear steering, and wheel braking. Systems 1 and 4 could be used for all purposes, while systems 2 and 3 were normally used for flight control only... System 4 also had a third electrical power source. Each primary flight control axis received power from all four hydraulic systems. Upon missile detonation the jumbo jet begins to experience oscillations (yawing) as the dual channel yaw damper is damaged. Yawing would not have occurred if either No. 1 or No. 2 hydraulic systems were fully operational. What does not happen that should have happened is that the control column does not thrust forward upon impact (it should have done so, as the plane was on autopilot) to bring down the plane to its former altitude of 35,000 feet. This failure of the autopilot to correct the rise in altitude indicates that hydraulic system No. 3, which operates the autopilot actuator, a system controlling the plane's elevators, was damaged or out. KAL 007's airspeed and acceleration rate both begin to decrease as the plane begins to climb. At twenty seconds after missile detonation a click is heard in the cabin – which is identified as the "automatic pilot disconnect warning" sound. Pilot or co-pilot has disconnected the autopilot and is now manually thrusting the control column forward in order to bring down the plane. But though the autopilot has been turned "off", manual mode will not kick in for another twenty seconds. This failure of manual to engage upon being commanded indicates again, failure in hydraulic systems No. 1 and No. 2.
With wing flaps up "control was reduced to the right inboard aileron and the innermost of spoiler section of each side."
The Left Wing: Contrary to Maj. Osipovich's statement that he had taken off half of KAL 007's left wing, ICAO analysis found that the wing was intact: From ICAO '93
"The interceptor pilot stated that the first missile hit near the tail, while the second missile took off half the left wing of the aircraft.".
"The interceptor's pilot's statement that the second missile took off half of the left wing was probably incorrect. The missiles were fired with a two-second interval and would have detonated at an equal interval. The first detonated at 18:26:02 hours. The last radio transmissions from KE007 to Tokyo Radio were between 18:26:57 and 18:27:15 hours using HF1 [High Frequency]. The HF 1 radio aerial of the aircraft was positioned in the left wing tip suggesting that the left wing tip was intact at this time. Also, the aircraft's manoeuvres after the attack did not indicate extensive damage to the left wing. .
Engines: The co-pilot reported to Capt. Chun twice during the flight after the heat seeker missile's detonation, "Engines normal, sir."
The Tail Section: The first missile was radar-controlled and proximity-fused, designed to detonate 50 meters from an aircraft. Sending fragments forward, this missile either severed or unraveled the crossover cable from the left inboard elevator to the right elevator. This with damage to one of the four Hydraulic systems, caused KAL 007 to ascend from 35,000 ft. to 38,250 ft. at which point Capt. Chun, disengaging the auto-pilot and taking manual control, was able to bring it down.
Decompression of Passenger cabin: The fragments also caused punctures to the pressurized passenger cabin. All the punctures together amounted to a total of 1 3/4 sq. feet. This was determined by the 11 seconds it took for the air rushing out of the cabin to set off the alarm picked up by the Cockpit Voice Recorder. .
According to the ICAO: "The location of the main wreckage was not determined ... The approximate position was , which was in international waters." This point is about from Moneron Island and about from the shore of Sakhalin from the point of attack
It was reported at the time that "Russian naval and air search units ... have barred the U.S. and Japanese search forces from the exact area where the 747 is believed to have crashed, even though that spot is beyond the territorial limit from Sakhalin Island.
Here are the After Action Report statements, however, of the Commander of the U.S. Search and Rescue/Salvage Task Force 71 of the 7th Fleet, Admiral Walter Piotti, to his belief that KAL 007 had not come down in international waters, but rather in Soviet territorial waters: "Had TF [task force] 71 been permitted to search without restriction imposed by claimed territorial waters, the aircraft stood a good chance of having been found.”...“No wreckage of KAL 007 was found. However, the operation established, with a 95% or above confidence level, that the wreckage, or any significant portion of the aircraft, does not lie within the probability area outside the area claimed by the Soviets as their territorial limit.”
Lynn Helms, Federal Aviation Administrator, stated at a hearing of ICAO on September 15, 1983 that "the U.S.S.R. has refused to permit search and rescue units from other countries to enter Soviet territorial waters to search for the remains of KAL 007. Moreover, the Soviet Union has blocked access to the likely crash site and has refused to cooperate with other interested parties, to ensure prompt recovery of all technical equipment, wreckage and other material.
Six days later, the Soviets turned over another 76 non-human items. On December 19, 1983, the Soviets surrendered yet another 83 small items, bringing the total of all items recovered to 1,020 Life magazine reported,"The Russians picked up 18 articles of clothing and sent them to Japan – but only after having them drycleaned.
In 1991 Izvestia published a series of interviews with civilian divers who had visited the wreckage of KAL 007 and the assumed resting place of its 269 passengers and crew on the ocean floor near Moneron Island starting two weeks after the shootdown:
“I did not miss a single dive. I have quite a clear impression: The aircraft was filled with garbage, but there were really no people there. Why? Usually when an aircraft crashes, even a small one... As a rule there are suitcases and bags, or at least the handles of the suitcases.” From Captain Mikhail Igorevich Girs’ diary: "Submergence October 10. Aircraft pieces, wing spars, pieces of aircraft skin, wiring, and clothing. But—no people. The impression is that all of this has been dragged here by a trawl rather than falling down from the sky". "So we were ready to encounter a virtual cemetery. But one submergence went by, then the second, and then the third... During the entire rather lengthy period of our work near Moneron, I and my people had maybe ten encounters with the remains of Boeing passengers. No more than that."
The virtual absence of bodies and human remains associated with KAL 007 has elicited various Russian explanations.
The Military Complement theory. The earliest was that there were no bodies found because KAL 007 had but a small complement of military personnel and no civilian passengers. This first version of the spy plane theory was by and large discarded by September 9, 1983, when Marshal Nicolay Ogarkov, U.S.S.R. Chief of General Staff and First Deputy Defence Minister, conceded that there had been civilian passengers aboard KAL 007.
"It has been proved irrefutably that the intrusion of the plane of the South Korean Airlines into Soviet airspace was a deliberately, thoroughly planned intelligence operation. It was directed from certain centers in the territory of the United States and Japan. A civilian plane was chosen for its deliberately disregarding, or, counting on the loss of human life.
The Crab theory. Another theory for the virtual absence of 269 people from the determined crash site is suggested by Soviet correspondent Andrey Illesh in his book, The Mystery of Korean Boeing 747. This theory proposes that the bodies were eaten by giant crabs found in the area. The crab theory has been persistent and been echoed by the Soviet interceptor pilot Gennadie Osipovich himself. Professor William Newman, marine biologist, refuted this theory, stating that crustaceans or sharks would not have touched bone, and that skeletons would have remained.
The Wind tunnel theory. Lieutenant General Valeri Kamenski, Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force and formerly Chief of Staff of the Soviet Far East Military District Air Defence Force, the strategic commander of the shootdown, indicating in an interview” that what happened to the bodies of the crew and passengers of KAL 007 still constitutes a mystery, suggested a third possible explanation. “It is still a mystery what happened to the bodies of the crew and passengers on the plane. According to one theory, right after the rocket’s detonation, the nose and tail section of the jumbo fell off and the mid fuselage became a sort of wind tunnel so the people were swept through it and scattered over the surface of the ocean. Yet in this case, some of the bodies were to have been found during the search operations in the area. The question of what actually happened to the people has not been given a distinct answer.”
The Decompression theory. This theory had more force before the black box tapes analysis showed that the total extent of a missile caused ruptures (even when put all together in one area) to KAL's fuselage was only 1 3/4 sq ft – too small for anyone to be sucked out.
Capt. Mikhail Girs: “Something else was inexplicable to us—zipped up clothes. For instance, a coat, slacks, shorts, a sweater with zippers—the items were different, but— zipped up and nothing inside. We came to this conclusion then: Most likely, the passengers had been pulled out of the plane by decompression and they fell in a completely different place from where we found the debris. They had been spread out over a much larger area. The current also did its work.”
Soviet Military Diver removal. Russian deep sea diver Vadim Kondrabaev, one of the civilian divers brought to explore the wreckage of KAL 007 in 1983, gave an interview on October 1, 2000 to the Russian magazine Itogi stating that after he and the other civilian divers were brought to Sakhalin on September 10, 1983, they were kept there until "the end of September." "...They literally forgot about us for several days." When they did get to the wreckage, they were surprised to find neither bodies nor luggage. "We worked beneath the water almost a month for 5 hours a day and didn't find one suitcase, not even a handle from them." He suggests that the bodies were removed by the Naval divers who had worked before they, the civilian divers, and that they, the civilian divers, were brought in "as a smoke screen".
"It is quite possible that several mini submarines with military divers went down to the Boeing even before us and collected everything, and scattered the remaining parts of the destroyed liner about or left them there where they were needed, and afterwards called us as a smoke screen."
On September 1, 1983, the New York Times noted: "Early reports said the plane ... had been forced down by Soviet Air Force planes and that all 240 passengers and 29 crew members were believed to be safe. "Korean Foreign Ministry officials cited the United States Central Intelligence Agency as the source for the report that the plane had been forced down on Sakhalin, but American officials in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington said they could not confirm or deny that report." The informant reported that "the plane had landed at Sakhalin. The crew and passengers are safe.".
Aviation Week & Space Technology for September 5, 1983, reported that Korean Air Lines had sent another aircraft "to pick up the passengers and bring them to South Korea.
The initial International Civil Aviation Organization investigation into KAL 007 was not given access to the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) or the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) but rather transcripts of the CVR. The ICAO released their initial report December 2, 1983, which concluded that the violation of Soviet airspace was accidental: The autopilot had been set to heading hold after departing Anchorage (an inflight navigational error). It was determined that the crew did not notice this error or subsequently perform navigational checks that would have revealed that the aircraft was diverging further and further from its assigned route. This was later deemed to be caused by a "lack of situational awareness and flight deck coordination".
According to a U.S. Department of State transcript of the shoot down reported by the New York Times, the pilot who shot the plane, Gennady Osipovich, stated that he fired multiple bursts from his cannon prior to releasing the two missiles. The pilot admitted there were no tracers, and these shots could not have been seen by the KAL 007 crew. The Soviets officially maintained that they had attempted radio contact with the airliner and that KAL 007 failed to reply. No other aircraft or ground monitors covering those emergency frequencies at the time reported hearing any such Soviet radio calls. The Soviet pilot reported that KAL 007 was flashing navigation lights, which should have suggested that the plane was civilian. The United States used RC-135s to spy on Russia, and, according to an earlier account, Osipovich feared that the plane could have been an RC-135. In his later 1996 account, Osipovich said "I saw two rows of windows and knew that this was a Boeing. I knew this was a civilian plane. But for me this meant nothing. It is easy to turn a civilian type of plane into one for military use."
On November 18, 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin, after a request from American senator Jesse Helms, released both the FDR and CVR of KAL 007 to South Korean President Roh Tae-woo. Initial South Korean research showed the FDR to be empty and the CVR to have an unintelligible copy. The Russians then released the "original recordings" to the ICAO. The ICAO Report continued to support the initial assertion that KAL 007 accidentally flew in Soviet airspace, after listening to the flight crew's conversations recorded by the CVR.
In addition, the Russian Federation released "Transcript of Communications. USSR Air Defence Command Centres on Sakhalin Island" transcripts to ICAO and these are appended to the ICAO '93 Report itself and provided material for analysis for the report. These transcripts (of a number of tracks recordings on two reels) are time specified, some to the second, of the communications between the various command posts and other military facilities on Sakhalin from the time of the initial orders for the shootdown and then through the stalking of KAL 007 by Maj. Osipovoich in his Sukhoi 15 interceptor, the attack as seen and "commented on" by General Kornukov, Commander of Sokol Air Base, down the ranks to the Combat Controller Lt. Col. Titovnin, the post-attack flight of KAL 007 until it had reached Moneron Island, the descent of KAL 007 over Moneron, the initial Soviet SAR missions to Moneron, the futile search of the "support" interceptors for KAL 007 on the water, and ending with the debriefing of Osipovich on return to base. Some of the communications are the telephone conversations between superior officers and subordinates and involve commands to them, while other communications involve the recorded responses to what was then being viewed on radar tracking KAL 007. These multi-track communications from various command posts telecommunicating at the same minute and seconds as other command posts were communicating provide a "composite" picture of what was taking place.
The first ICAO Report, released on December 2, 1983, included a statement by the Soviet Government claiming "no remains of the victims, the instruments or their components or the flight recorders have so far been discovered". However, this was shown to be not true by Boris Yeltsin's release of the earlier November 1983 Memo from KGB head Viktor Chebrikov and Defence Minister Dmitry Ustinov to Yuri Andropov. This Memo stated "In the third decade of October this year the equipment in question (the recorder of in-flight parameters and the recorder of voice communications by the flight crew with ground air traffic surveillance stations and between themselves) was brought aboard a search vessel and forwarded to Moscow by air for decoding and translation at the Air Force Scientific Research Institute.
On March 24, 1992, Soviet Defence Minister Dmitri Ustinov admitted on Russian television that he had ordered an all-out effort to retrieve the black boxes in order to "prevent the United States from finding them and to save the Soviet Union from a flurry of international accusations for destroying a civilian airliner". In October 1992 a delegation from the American Association For Families of KAL 007 Victims visiting Moscow at the invitation of President Boris Yeltsin. During a State ceremony at St. Catherine's Hall in the Kremlin the KAL Family Delegation was handed a portfolio containing partial transcripts of the KAL007 Cockpit Voice Recorder — translated into Russian — and documents of the Politburo pertaining the September 1, 1983 tragedy. At the conclusion of a three hour Work Meeting with President Yeltsin an investigation Commission under the chairmanship of General Georgy Kondratyev was established which completed its Report in June 1993. Also in June, Yeltsin revealed the existence of a KGB memo reporting the existence of documents related to KAL 007. Speaking in Washington, Yeltsin said, "It was a memorandum from (the) KGB to the Central Committee of the Communist Party where it says that such a tragedy has taken place, and so on and so forth, and that there are documents which would clarify the entire picture. And the next line then says these documents are so well concealed that it is doubtful that our children will be able to find them, those who come after us will be able to find them.". Then in November, President Boris Yeltsin handed the two Black Box containers to Korean President Roh Tae-Woo – but not the tapes themselves. The tapes were handed to ICAO on January 8, 1993. They were transcribed by the "Bureau d'Enquete et d'Analyses" (BEA) in Paris in the presence of representatives from Japan, The Russian Federation, South Korea, and the United States. In March 1993 another KAL007 Families delegation was invited back to Moscow where they were given 93 pictures of plane debris – including floating $50 and $100 bills, the voice transcripts – ground to ground, ground to air, air to ground and air to air during the time of the incident and other documents.
The read out of the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Digital Flight Recorder revealed that the recordings broke off after the first minute and 44 seconds of KAL 007's post missile detonation 12 minute flight. ICAO notes that break off of tape is consonant with a high speed crash while it also concludes that, in fact, there was no high speed crash at that time. No reconciliation of data is provided. "Spliced joints were found at approximately 108, 440, 442, and . from the beginning of the tape. The middle two were spaced at a distance corresponding to the length of the tape between the two reels and the last data was recorded between these two joints. It was not unusual for the tape to break as a result of high speed impacts, near where it left the reels.". The remaining minutes of flight would be supplied by the Russia 1992 submission to ICAO of the real-time Soviet military communication of the shootdown and aftermath.
Soviet communications (from KGB Chief Viktor Chebrikov and Defence Minister Dmitry Ustinov to Premier Yury Andropov) confirmed that while they were simulating a search, and harassing the American Navy, they already knew the KAL 007 wreckage location, had already boarded it, taken the sought-after flight data recorder, and decided to keep this knowledge secret — the reason being that the tapes could not unequivocally support their claim that KAL 007's flight to Soviet territory was an intelligence mission
"Simulated search efforts in the Sea of Japan are being performed by our vessels at present in order to dis-inform the U.S. and Japan. These activities will be discontinued in accordance with a specific plan...
"...Therefore, if the flight recorders shall be transferred to the western countries their objective data can equally be used by the U.S.S.R. and the western countries in proving the opposite view points on the nature of the flight of the South Korean airplane. In such circumstances a new phase in anti-Soviet hysteria cannot be excluded.
"In connection with all mentioned above it seems highly preferable not to transfer the flight recorders to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or any third party willing to decipher their contents. The fact that the recorders are in possession of the U.S.S.R. shall be kept secret...
"As far as we are aware neither the U.S. nor Japan has any information on the flight recorders. We have made necessary efforts in order to prevent any disclosure of the information in future.
"Looking to your approval.
"D.Ustinov, V. Chebrikov
"____ December 1983"
That the Soviet search was simulated (while knowing the wreckage lay elsewhere) also is suggested by the article of Mikhail Prozumentshchikov, Deputy Director of the Russian State Archives of Recent History, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the aeroplane's shooting down. Commenting on the Soviet and American searches: "Since the U.S.S.R., for natural reasons, knew better where the Boeing had been downed, ... it was very problematical to retrieve anything, especially as the U.S.S.R. was not particularly interested".
On the September 1, 1983, U.S. President Ronald Reagan condemned the shooting down of the airplane as the "Korean airline massacre", a "crime against humanity [that] must never be forgotten" and an "act of barbarism ... [and] inhuman brutality".
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, commissioned an audio-visual presentation in the Security Council, using audio tapes of the Soviet radio conversations and a map of Flight 007's path in depicting its shooting down.
On September 15, 1983, President Reagan ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to revoke the licence of Aeroflot Soviet Airlines to operate flights to and from the US. Aeroflot flights to North America were consequently available only through Canadian and Mexican cities. Aeroflot service to the U.S. was not restored until April 29, 1986.
The Soviet Government expressed "regret over the death of innocent victims", but blamed the CIA for this "criminal, provocative act".
The Soviets then said:
KAL Flight 007 was clearly on a spy mission, as it "flew deep into Soviet territory for several hundred kilometres, without responding to signals and disobeying the orders of interceptor fighter planes". The purpose was to probe the air defences of highly sensitive Soviet military sites in the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island.
In a New York Times newspaper interview, Su-15 Interceptor pilot Gennadie Osipovich acknowledged he knew the intercepted aeroplane was a civilian airliner, and that he did see its blinking lights:
"From the flashing lights and the configuration of the windows, he recognized the aircraft as a civilian type of plane ... I saw two rows of windows and knew that this was a Boeing, he said. I knew this was a civilian plane, but, for me, this meant nothing. It is easy to turn a civilian type of plane into one for military use.
Flight 007 has been the subject of ongoing controversy in America and has spawned a number of conspiracy theories, including allegations that the flight was a spy mission. One of these theories was that Space Shuttle Challenger and a satellite were monitoring the airliner's progress over Soviet territory. Time magazine, which printed this claim, was sued by Korean Air Lines and forced to pay damages as well as print an apology.
The controversy has continued. In 1994, Robert W Allardyce and James Gollin wrote Desired Track: The Tragic Flight of KAL Flight 007, supporting the spy mission theory. In 2007, they reiterated their position in a series of articles in Airways magazine, arguing that the investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization was a cover-up.
Another controversy is concerned with the flight of the RC-135 reconnaissance plane which the U.S. has acknowledged had been about from KAL 007 as it was about to enter Soviet airspace. The RC-135 was tasked with capturing the telemetry of the SS-25 missile, illegal according to SALT ll agreements, which the Soviets were to launch that night from Plesetsk in north west Russia to come down in the Klyuchi target range on Kamchatka. Whether the RC-135, configured as a Cobra Ball, was able to pick up the "chatter" from Soviet command posts and capture the radar stations "lighting up" one after another tracking the "intruder" aircraft, as an RC-135 configured as a Rivet Joint could, has been contested.
There has always been a question concerning the capability, and the actualization of that capability, of the RC-135 to become aware of KAL 007 as it penetrated into Soviet air space and to warn it. During the civil litigation for damages to the families of the victims of the shoot-down, Chief Justice of the District Court of Washington, D.C., Aubrey Robinson, ruled out legal recourse to finding out on grounds that it would endanger National Security. He allowed only, on April 18, 1984, questions to the military, "but only in respect to uncovering the legal duty [of the military] to warn or advise civilian aircraft
In January 1996, Hans Ephraimson, Chairman of the American Association for Families of KAL 007 Victims, claimed that South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan accepted $4 million from Korean Air in order to gain "government protection" during the investigation of the shootdown.
Airway R20 (Romeo 20), the flight path that Korean Air Flight 007 was supposed to fly, which came within of Soviet airspace at its closest point, was temporarily closed after the incident on September 2. However, pilots and airlines fiercely resisted and the route was reopened on October 2.
NATO had decided, under the impetus of the Reagan administration, to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Germany. This deployment would have placed missiles just 6–10 minutes striking distance from Moscow. But support for the deployment was wavering and many doubted that the missile deployment would find enough support to carry through. When the Soviet Union shot down Flight 007 with 269 people aboard—an act which U.S. President Ronald Reagan characterized as a "massacre"—enough support in the U.S. and elsewhere was galvanized for the deployment.
The US decided to utilize military radars, extending the radar coverage from 200 to out from Anchorage. These radars had been used in 1968 to alert Seaboard World Airlines Flight 253 in a similar situation. As a result of this incident, Ronald Reagan announced that the Global Positioning System (GPS) would be made available for civilian uses once completed.