1 September 1983

A Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor armed with R-98MR air-to-air missiles. (Department of Defense)
Подполковник Г.Н. Осипович. Майкоп, середина 1980-х гг.
Подполковник Г.Н. Осипович. Майкоп, середина 1980-х гг.

1 September 1983: At approximately 1826 hours UTC, Lieutenant Colonel Gennadiy Nikolayevich Osipovich of the V-PVO, (Soviet Air Defence Forces—Войска ПВО, Voyska Protivovozdushnoy Oborony) flying a Sukhoi Su-15TM interceptor, fired two Kaliningrad R-98MR air-to-air missiles at a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 which was in international air space over the Sea of Japan at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Both missiles’ 40 kilogram (88 pound) warheads were detonated by proximity fuses 50 yards (45 meters) behind the airliner and blast fragmentation shrapnel caused severe damage. Over the next twelve minutes, the 747 spiraled downward until it crashed into the Sea of Japan near Moneron Island. All 269 persons on board were killed.

The airliner, KAL Flight 007, had departed Anchorage International Airport enroute to Seoul, Republic of Korea. In command was Captain Chun Byung-in. The co-pilot was First Officer Son Dong Hui and the flight engineer was Kim Eui Doing. There were a total of 29 crew members and 240 passengers on board.

After leaving Anchorage airspace, the airplane, a 12-year-old Boeing 747-230B, registration HL7442, continuously deviated from its planned route to the north. It entered Soviet airspace, crossed over the Kamchatka Penninsula, and then flew over Sakhalin Island. Based on these two airspace incursions, the Soviet military chain of command specifically ordered Lieutenant Colonel Osipovich to shoot down the airliner, even if it was over international waters.

A Korean Alr Lines Boeing 747-200, HL2464, similar to the aircraft flown as KAL 007. (Wikipedia)
A Korean Air Lines’ Boeing 747-2B5B, similar to the 747-230B flown as KAL 007, 1 September 1983. (Wikipedia)

It is believed that the KAL 007 flight crew had placed the autopilot in the heading mode when it should have been in the Inertial Navigation Mode. From review of cockpit voice recorder tapes that were later recovered, it is not believed that the crew was ever aware that they were flying north of their course.

The intended and actual track of KAL Flight 700.
The intended and actual track of Korean Air Lines Flight 007. (Central Intelligence Agency)

When interviewed by The New York Times for the 9 December 1996 edition, Colonel Osipovich, by then retired, said, “I saw two rows of windows and knew 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.”

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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