The background to the event
Cold War tensions between the increasingly hawkish United States and increasingly paranoid Soviet Union had escalated to a level not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis because of several factors like the United States' Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), its planned deployment of Pershing II missiles in Western Europe in the March and April of 1983, and Exercise FleetEx '83, the largest fleet exercise held to date in the North Pacific and Exercise Able Archer 83 in Western Europe.
On April 4,at least 6 American aircraft flew over Zeleny Island in southern Kurile Islands, which were close to the border with Japan, as part of the Exercise FleetEx '83. In retaliation the Soviets ordered an overflight of America's Aleutian Islands and complained to the UN over the American's airspace violations.
Several aircraft from USS Midway and USS Enterprise had repeatedly overflown the Soviet military installations in the disputed Kurile Islands (Japan had lost them to the USSR in 1945 and wanted them back) during FleetEx '83, resulting in the dismissal or reprimanding of Soviet military the officials who had been unable or unwilling to shoot them down.
The Soviet's politically paranoid and bigoted military and political hierarchy (in particularly the 'communist old guard' led by the Soviet General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, and the Soviet Defence Minister, Dmitry Ustinov,) fear that the USA was both warwaky, militarily provocative, political bigoted and trying to undermine the post Cuba Crisis understanding on how they should act during peace time; they were deeply suspicious of US President Ronald Reagan's intentions and openly fearful he was planning a first strike nuclear attack against the Soviet Union.
The Soviet's huge Exercise Zapad-81 had already annoyed NATO, Finland and Poland already. The Soviets's intelligence gathering mission Operation RYAN (Raketno-Yadernoe Napadenie (Russian: Ракетно-ядерное нападение, "Nuclear Missile Attack")) was expanded. It was a plan to find out where the USA was planning to nuke in a possible surprise nuclear attack. The Soviet leadership were convince the American were hell bent on having a war with the USSR and were addicted to using nukes in any wars with the USSR and China.
The USSR had the widly disliked habit of hanging spy equipment in small domes under Airoflot aircraft entering Western Europe. The USA also flew several spy planes over the Soviet Far East painted illegal in civilian colours. Using civilian aircraft for military use or switching civil and military markings and livery par se is at best dubious, if not down right illegal.
A specific rule of the Geneva Conventions and Hague Protocols was broken at this point in history by the use of civil markings on military aircraft; in this case, the honest use of spy planes.
Earlier that day
On the day of the shoot-down security was heightened over, on and around the Kamchatka Peninsula because of a recently scheduled Soviet missile test. A United States Air Force Boeing RC-135 Cobra Ball reconnaissance aircraft flying in the area and was monitoring the missile test off the cost of the peninsula.
Korean Air Flight 007, was a South Korean Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, was shot down near Moneron Island in the USSR, after it steadily veered into prohibited Soviet airspace, due to pilot error and/or a auto-pilot failure and was shot down by a by a Su-15TM based on the top secret and closed Soviet location of Sakhalin Island, which was full of military bases, gulags, ports, spy tech and oil drilling towns like Neftegorsk; was also situated in the Soviet Far East. Eventually the stray jet would have gon just south of the major port of Vladivostok and in to N. Korea. The attack killed all 246 passengers and 23 crew on board. The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted the shoot-down, claiming that the aircraft was on a covert spy mission.
There is no known evidence to indicate that civil air traffic controllers or military radar personnel at Elmendorf Air Force Base (who were in a position to receive King Salmon Radar Station's output) were aware of KAL 007's deviation in real-time information, and therefore be able to warn the aircraft.
At 28 minutes after takeoff, civilian radar at Kenai Peninsula on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet and with radar coverage 175 miles (282 km) west of Anchorage, tracked KAL 007 5.6 miles (9.0 km) north of where it should have been.
They had already flown over Kamchatka Peninsula just north of the town of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The supprised Kamchatkans sent up a few fighter jets, but did not find it and the aircraft went back to there bases. The authorities on Sakhalin Island were informed and could get ready for there encounter with it.
In 1854 the French and British, who were battling Russian forces in the course of the Crimean War, attacked Petropavlovsk. During the Siege of Petropavlovsk, 988 men with a mere 68 guns managed to defend the outpost against 6 ships with 206 guns and 2,540 French and British soldiers. The town was deserted for a year and twice shelled out by Anglo-French forces.
After some minor activity in World War 2 the Soviet authorities declared Kamchatka a military zone and a closed Soviet location during the Cold War. As time passed, a missile test range, a few Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and several severance stations were situated their. It remained closed to Soviet citizens until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990.
As it approached the closed Soviet location of Sakhalin Island, which was full of military bases, gulags, ports, spy tech and oil drilling towns like Neftegorsk; was also situated in the Soviet Far East. A Su-15TM based on the top secret and Eventually the stray jet would have gone just south of the major port of Vladivostok and in to N. Korea.
Politically speaking, flying over closed Soviet location, especially the more important ones like Sakhalin Island, was suicidal stupidity.
The fighter pilot was told to shoot it down by his bullish airbase commanders regardless of if it was a innocent civilian or not. He had to do it, or get gulaged like many others had been before him had been before him!
He unilaterally fired warning shots, but the aircraft's amour pearceing shells (like high explosive shells) din't show up to any one watching them at night, un-like tracers and incendiary shells. He flashed his lights and 'waggled/wagged his wings' (a partial turn and roll to the side away from the aircraft who the peruser wants to force down), but he did not make radio contact with the passenger jet.
At this point, Flight KAL 007 contacted Tokyo air traffic control and began requesting clearance to ascend to a higher flight level for reasons of in flight fuel economy. The Japanese agreed to the request was granted, so the South Korean Boeing 747 started to climb, gradually slowing as it exchanged it's speed for altitude. The decrease in speed and rise in height caused the pursuing fighter to overshoot the Boeing jet, an action that was interpreted by the Soviet pilot as an evasive maneuver. He then got back behind it and shot the tail fin of with a anti-aircraft missile.
The attack killed all 246 passengers and 23 crew on board. The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted the shoot-down, claiming that the aircraft was on a covert spy mission.
The Soviet Politburo officially claimed at the time it was a deliberate American provocation to test there battle readiness or even to provoke a war as political paranoia took over in the minds of the national leadership. The Americans accused the Soviet Union of obstructing search and rescue operations and began to act increasingly aggressively and went very hawkish if not down right paranoid and war-wacky over it. Both Koreas were angry, confused and ready for war with each other as they spent about a month after going on to a war footing and getting rather paranoid with each other after the shoot-down. The British and Japanese governments were upset, but not war like. China, Australia, France, W. Germany, E. Germany, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Poland were also concerned by both the event and the breakdown in Soviet-American relation tat followed it. Only Israel, Taiwan and S. Korea gave the USA unswerving support. Only N. Korea and Cuba gave the USSR unswerving support
The Soviet military also suppressed evidence sought by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation, such as the flight data recorders which were released 8 years later on the personal orders of the Russian President, Boris Yelstin.
As a result of the tragic incident, the United States altered it's less than adequate tracking procedures for aircraft departing Alaska. The user interface of the autopilot used on most of the world's airliners was redesigned to make it more ergonomic and easier to use. It was one of the most important single events that prompted the hawkish Reagan administration to allow civil worldwide access to the United States military's GNSS system, which was classified as top secret at the time. It is now known as the GPS system.
The conspiracy theories
- Officially it was said to be pilot error and/or an autopilot defect.
- The USSR said it was rigged up to act as a spy plane a aswell as carry passengers.
- Some have speculated on British satellite and terrestrial TV over the years that the Soviets had though the Cobra Ball spy plane had returned and panicked.
- At the time the UK's news papers speculated that the S. Koreans had taken a reckless short-cut to save time and/or fuel (I personal believe in this theory as well).
- A few years later it was speculated in the UK's newspapers that it had got lost due to a radio beacon/autopilot error.
- Many still believe it was carefully planned intrusion into Soviet territory with the knowledge of US military and intelligence agencies ether for spying or battle readiness testing of the Soviet forces.
- The Americas are also accused by some radio/radar experts of malignantly meaconing. Meaconing is the term to describe the interception and the rebroadcasting of navigational signals in order to confuse the sending aircraft as to its true location. (There is an assumption that the target does not have or is not using any secondary navigational aids such as INS or radar). Thus the USA tricked the S. Koreans in to committing the intrusion. For that reason the USA and Japan ignored it's obviously illegal and suicidal course deviation.
- Many aviation experts and air crew wondered over the years if the Korean crew had botched selecting a flight plan and got way-points programmed into the INS computer.
- A 1990's UK newspaper theory speculated that either the USA, the USSR, Japan, China, N. Korea or S. Korea could have deliberately bombed the aircraft to provoke a major diplomatic crisis, if not a full scale war in the North Pacific. The Japanese and Chinese were dismissed as innocent beyond dout, but of the rest, the most blame was said lay with the N. Koreans.
- French aeronautical expert, Michel Brun, supported by a former American diplomat to Moscow, John Keppel, and the American association Foundation for Constitutional Government; run the theory that the the massacre of Flight 007 was directly caused by the Americans or Japanese. KAL 007 was involved in a spy mission intended to trigger Soviet air defences and/or to cover up for the missions of several USAF surveillance aircraft, like the Cobra Ball that had visited the Kamchatka region early that day. The Soviet Fighter(s) had attacked these aircraft, but did not destroy KAL 007 which crashed far away from Sakhalin in supposedly "friendly" Japanese territory in the Japanese sea near North Honshu. The passenger an crew were then either jailed and/or killed on the spot if the did not agree to be given new identities and to promise not to leek what had happen to the outside world on pain of death and/or life imprisonment with out the possibility of parole.
- Some say that the US government had covered up the incident and had politically skewed the investigation to a anti-Soviet outcome. .
- A mostly American and Israeli theory states that KAL 007, having been missed by one of the missiles, landed or successfully ditched with most, if not all of the passengers and crew surviving. They were then arrested, abducted and put into prison camps by the Soviet authorities. Among its advocates are the Israeli-American Bert Schlossberg and Avraham Shifrin, a Soviet emigre to Israel.
At the time the UK's news papers speculated that the S. Koreans had taken a reckless short-cut to save time and/or fuel (I personal believe in this theory as well).
President Ronald Regan's bullish and hawkish attitude, the secretive and paranoid Soviet leadership, embarismet at Korean Air and undersandably riotous hordes of anger S. Korean and Taiwanese relatives were all to blame for the rapid escalation of the already major crisis situation.
If humanity wanted an atomic war just for the hell of it, then this looked like the moment it would happen at the UK media at the time. As I remember, the Australian PM Bob Hawke, British PM Margaret Thatcher, W. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and E. German Present Erich Honecker were very concerned by the escalating super power rhetoric at the time.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KAL007.svg flight map of Korean Airlines Flight 007