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I must admit I did not think that I would have to so suddenly and unexpectedly interrupt, temporarily of course, the publication of Aleksandr Shalnev's series of reports from the USA about the South Korean aircraft. Circumstances have forced the editors to change their plans. This time it is for a good cause. An expert, who is very important for our investigation, requested an audience. You could say a key element. He was a high ranking naval officer, who was assigned to the Pacific Ocean Fleet in the Autumn of 1983. He, as many others, requested anonymity; however, he promised to reveal to the readers both his position and rank in time. However, there is no cause as yet for doubting the facts of this matter, which he presented to the editors. His documents and facts were acquired first hand, as they say.
Our acquaintance began with an extremely angry phone call.
"Your investigation is directed in spirit against the navy", was his abrupt beginning. "You write that the Navy had everything necessary for the aircraft search but could not handle its mission. You give all the credit to the divers from the "Mirchink." That is a lie."
By the way, I would like to note that my infuriated caller had misplaced somewhat the emphasis which had been very clearly presented in our paper on this matter. Particularly in the section, which discussed the actual search for the South Korean Boeing-747, which was destroyed by Soviet interceptors on the night of 1 Sept 1983 in the sky over Sakhalin. However, I repeat, both the position and the rank of my caller led me to hope, that after he had calmed down, he would be able to supply facts, which our journalistic investigation sorely needed.
"I want you to understand that we sailors never had the essentials of a modern navy. Nonetheless, we pretended that sailors had everything. However, what is that to our sailors. Our entire army is the lowest paid army in the world!. I think only Mongolia and maybe Viet Nam are lower than us. At the same time, it was always being drummed into the Soviet people that they should be proud of the invincible forces of the army and navy. It was as if the military industrial complex possessed unimaginable capacity. My years of experience have convinced me of one thing. The capacity is truly great, but the technology employed is for the most part exactly the same as in the civilian sector. Compare a Japanese television with a Soviet one. There is about the save disparity between our military and theirs in both electronic equipment and other military. In any case it's so in the navy. We are hopelessly behind in radars, ship building, electronic countermeasures. We always emphasized quantity in our country. Do you need any examples? Fine. An American submarine is much quieter that one of ours. Let's suppose it is confronted by 10 Soviet subs. That enemy sub can silently slip up on each of ours and destroy them one by one. We keep silent and pretend that the Americans don't know this. They don't mention this either. It's convenient for them to point out that the USSR has many more weapons than they. While at the same time, our country is launching inferior ships, which do not meet the standards of modern technology. What about submarines. There are 20 submarines being built in the USSR. The Americans - only four. Tell me, which country's economy is being strained too much. This is crazy. The reason, by the way, is very simple. Each new project gives birth to several new Heroes of Socialist Labor, Lenin and state prize winners, hundreds of award winners...
At this point, it seemed that the important military chief had cooled down some and the time had come to get to the main topic.
"Even if it is true that the navy and the army are in extremely poor straits from the view point of technology, what does that have to do with the search in the Sea of Japan for the downed passenger aircraft? "
"It's directly related. But in order to show this, I have to start at the beginning of this tragedy.
I turned on the recorder and prepared to listen.
"I was assigned in accordance with my specialty to one of the staff directorates of the Pacific Ocean Fleet. As you yourself wrote, our fleet was directly involved in the search for that ill fated plane. I, from my position at the top, could observe the activities of the Pacific Ocean Fleet command post in detail and see, what action the Commander, Admiral Vladimir Vasilevich Sidorov, was taking.
Everything began when we received information about an air violator, which penetrated our airspace over Kamchatka. Late at night (31 August-1 September, author.) the Commander of the fleet and a number of officers arrived at headquarters. A post was set up at the command point, which received all the information about the intruder. When the aircraft entered the area over the Sea of Okhotsk, our officers thought that it would depart either via the Kurile Islands or via Sakhalin. As I recall, the Commander of the fleet suggested that the intruder would exit via the Kuriles. All our resources, of course, were brought up to combat readiness...
"Did you suspect, that this was a passenger aircraft?"
"No. We were sure that it was a violator. It was simply impossible for a civilian aircraft to be so lost. Furthermore, in those years, the Americans were being provocative. They penetrated our air space many times and angered us all. It finally became clear that this aircraft was heading toward Sakhalin. This cconfused us. We expected it to turn and exit toward neutral waters. But, no! It continued on!
After we learned that the aircraft had been attacked and that weapons had been used, we began trying to figure out its probable crash site. Ships were ordered to the estimated area. Several ships immediately headed there at full speed. Soon, two or three hours after receiving the message that the plane had been shot down, one of them reported that there were many small objects visible in the water, apparently parts of the downed Boeing. However, the current in that area was swift and the floating objects were being carried steadily southward. I remember clearly that the Commander ordered mathematical calculations based on the air defense radar tracking data and the data from the ship's commander. We took possible azimuth and range (radar tracking service) errors into consideration. We wound up with an area similar to an ellipse. But the focal point did not coincide with what the ship's commander reported. So from this initial area, we got a large area approximately 12 by 18 kilometers.
Trawlers with hydro acoustical and magnetic search equipment, hydrographic vessels with hydro acoustical echo trawls, and several submarines were sent to the search area. (Up to this point, the sailor's story coincided with the documents and facts that Izvestia had on file. Naturally there was no trace of any official mention about submarines arriving in the area of the search during the first hours after the tragedy. Even among the experts there was only rumors and guesses about this. author).
The possibility of sending equipment from other departments to the area was also discussed, including search equipment, which was still in the experimental stage. The Commander contacted the head of "DalRyba" (I forgot who that was) and reached an agreement that the fishing industry would assign any of their ships in the area to the search. Nearly 20 such ships actually arrived to help us. Only after several days did the possibility of using the Mirchink arise. (I will explain that the Mikhail Mirchink is a drilling ship, about which I wrote during the investigation. The divers working in a bell that was lowered from this ship to a depth of 174 meters. These were the people that found the Boeing at the bottom of the sea and the people who so irked my guest. author).
"Yes, we knew that that ship had a foreign (Finnish. author) diving unit with an underwater television," continues the sailor. "The discussions between us and the chief of the Mirchink lasted several days. Finally after the matter was settled, we found out that it had no divers! They had an incomplete crew... The ship couldn't go to sea immediately. But we all understood, that it would be irreplaceable when we began bringing up the aircraft wreckage from the bottom to the surface.
(A point needs clearing up here, because the specialist is mistaken. The unpreparedness of the Mikhail Mirchink crew was not the only snag. The fact is that those four Murmansk divers, who ultimately brilliantly accomplished such a uniquely difficult and dangerous job, were perhaps the only group in the USSR at that time, which could work at such a depth and operate the Finnish equipment for such a long period of time. author).
So at first military submarines swept the bottom. They did not find the "pincher", a special instrument on the black box, which emits a signal (for a period of 30 days. author).
Hydrographic ships joined the search, including even an underwater manned shell, a unique underwater vessel (apparently he means an OSA, stabilized underwater equipment. However, this is still not clear. author). Fishing boats were on the job also. They investigated the area with this force. At first they found some type of kegs, pieces of metal, which were not from the aircraft. Finally success! The expedition's fishermen netted some objects, documents, recording tape, and a child's hand. (This is the first mention with the exception of the civilian divers of finding the remains of passengers from KAL-007. author.). They again lowered a double trawl, which looks like a large net, edged at the bottom with leather in order to slide across rocks easier. And again a catch. Some kind of documents and bits of the aircraft. They immediately narrowed down the search area. They soon discovered three sectors where pieces of the aircraft were found. An area approximately 2 and a half kilometers. Only then was the Mirchink sent out.
"Why didn't the hydro acoustical equipment work during the search?"
"That is very simple. As was reported at that time, the aircraft broke up into small pieces from the force of the impact against the water. Even before impact, apparently there was a violent explosion. The pieces were too small to register on the hydroacoustical equipment. They could only be found by direct contact, by the trawls and later the divers finished the job.
The divers immediately declared that they could not work at a depth greater than 130 meters. There was even a point at which they wanted them to leave. (inter departmental rivalry even here at a time of a major international scandal and the death of 269 people. author). But we remembered that without their equipment, the search would be very difficult. After all you couldn't find such equipment anywhere in the navy."
"What was so special about this equipment?"
"We are talking about a deep water observation chamber with a television system. But the most important fact was that the Mikhail Mirchink had a dynamic positioning system which allowed it to maintain its location without anchors and buoys. This consists of six steering devices, a computer which uses wind speed and direction, and the direction of the current to calculate the location, where the ship must be positioned. Naval ships would have had to fool around with cables in order to do this. Sailors still don't have anything similar to this. .."
(One more observation. There were three identical ships, one of which was the Mikhail Mirchink, which were ordered built by the USSR, not at a secret military plant, but at a shipyard in Finland. There are dozens if not hundreds of similar ships in the world. There are even more modern, better equipped ships, but not in our navy. Here my guest is correct. He confirms many conclusions resulting from the investigation of Izvestia. author).
"... So the Mirchink sailed to the proper spot. Pieces of the aircraft, lying on the ground, could already be seen by television. They ordered the divers to bring them up. And the divers filled nets with their catch. I remember they rushed to a spot where 100 dollar bills were scattered. They saw them, but could not get hold of them. It took a long time for them to calm down after this..."
I would note that the divers have already complained to you that foreign ships greatly interfered with their work, particularly the Americans. They were not then considered democrats and philanthropists as they are now. They were continuously asking for trouble. Six American ships, including a missile frigate, several Japanese ships and boats were creating such a ruckus and noise, that the search was almost impossible. It was such a difficult situation that we almost stopped the search.
"What was the problem, aside from noise of course?"
"They were sailing close by. Their stations were working, emitting a hydroacoustical transmission. There was noise from the propellers. This hindered the operations of our equipment (which was not all that powerful in the first place). If it hadn't been for all our competition, we would have finished in 10 or 12 days. This was when the Commander decided on an extreme measure. Something had to be done, right?! He did not let anyone in on his plan as far as I know. Suddenly one day we saw the American missile frigate break off for some where and all the other ships followed. "
(We have already mentioned earlier in the investigation, that an instrument, which imitates the signal from a "black box", a false "pincher", was used to draw off the Americans. We had doubts about this fact. To be more precise, an experienced enemy would bite at a decoy. But here is the confirmation, coming to Izvestia from a different source. author).
"This operational deception was described by officers from the ship, which carried it out. But this, as the newspaper correctly doubted, was not all. Two more fishing captains were ordered to go to the area, where the false "pincher" had been dropped, a very deep spot. They were to transmit disinformation from this spot. That's what they did. The fishermen went there and broadcast, "We can hear the "pincher!" The Americans fell for this. Apparently they were diligently listening to all our radio transmissions. Soon the Americans reported that they had found the "black box" and invited all the correspondents to come see. (As I understand it, this was disinformation from their side. author)
"We watched", continues the sailor, "as helicopters flew out to their ship. One of the helicopters even crashed. The Americans requested help. We gave them the coordinates of the helicopter crash..."
"But the Soviet military people were still not alone after the Americans left. There were still two special Japanese ships with huge spheres lowered into the water."
"What could we do?" recalls my guest. "They had low frequency detection and ranging. You couldn't even go into the water. But, thank God, by evening even they left."
"But now, talk about fate! The echo of all this radio deception even reached our side. From Moscow came the alarm, that the Americans had found the "black box." This is not idle talk. Join the search in that area."
"You know that for appearances, several ships were sent there. But at this time, the Mirchink, surrounded by two rings of ships (one ring sailed clockwise, the other counter clockwise), had started operations. Now no one could interfere with it."
"What about the Americans?"
"Of course, they did not find anything. They calmed down. Apparently they understood that they had simply been fooled."
"Why were you so worried that the Americans might get the "black box" first?"
"At that time, it was apparent to us that the aircraft had not simply strayed into the skies over Kamchatka. That meant that it was a special flight. Therefore there had to be some kind of intelligence gathering equipment on board. In addition, we understood that if the Americans found it first, they could replace it with a dummy. We did not trust them..."
"But as far as I know, there was no intelligence equipment found on the aircraft."
"If there was any special equipment found on it, we knew nothing about it. But that is not even the point. I am a proponent of the old version. The aircraft violated our air space with a specific purpose. Even if there was nothing on the Boeing besides passengers. It had a different assignment - to overfly our bases and force the air defense system to activate, which, in my opinion, KAL-007 did successfully. At that time, special intelligence collection aircraft and a satellite were active, which were recording data about our defense system..."
"Is it true that the objects you found, floating on the surface or at the bottom of the sea, were then given to the Japanese?"
"Yes. A steamship from the port of Wakkanai came to us. It made continuous runs in those days. It picked up some things. (Our correspondent in Japan, Sergei Agafonov, has been ordered to verify this story.)
"What happened to the rest?"
"The packaging of all the rest was undertaken by specialists of various departments who had come from Moscow. I only remember that everything was sent to the port of Nevelsk. There were Moscowvites there also."
"Was the "black box" found?"
"Many instruments, objects, tape were brought up. We didn't know what was recorded on them. In order to prevent (as demanded the experts) oxidization of this valuable cargo, we preserved it. I remember clearly that everything was packed in rubber bags, which were filled with a mixture of half distilled water and half alcohol. The bags were then sent to Moscow on a special aircraft. There were nine of them.
"Did the navy men receive any awards for the successful search?" "No, and I was surprised by your report, where you wrote that the military sailors having found nothing, raked in the decorations and medals. (This is not exactly what we wrote. author). This was all nonsense! It's true that the Commander of the fleet expressed his appreciation to everyone... But that was all."
"Nonetheless, how did the search end for you?"
"We quickly received an order to shut down all operations. Everything that was necessary had been found. We left. I remember that everyone was expecting results. After all, they were deciphering the black box. The world would learn the truth. Nothing appeared, not in the press nor in official documents. But there was something even more puzzling to us. Four or six weeks after all this, both in our country and in foreign countries, everyone suddenly for some reason fell silent. It was as if there had never been a Boeing. "
"What do you think the reason for that was? "
"I will tell you. And I have heard this idea expressed by many highly placed military people. They say that you want to learn the truth about the Boeing? Well then, answer one question. Why did the Americans suddenly stop spending all their time on this problem in the press? Maybe it was not desirable for them to have everything brought to light? Even my colleagues have raised such a possibility. Yes, the Soviet navy managed to find the "black box." Experts managed to decipher its data. But this text did not favor the Americans... And this is what happened next. The Soviet and American sides (unfortunately I don't know at what level) simply reached an agreement... And they tried to bury this mutually inconvenient mystery a little further and a little deeper. "
The conclusions reached by my guest (I repeat - an officer of high rank and position, concealing his name for the time being, not so much for his own sake, as for the sake of the editorial staff) are far reaching to say the least. In any case, the rest of our journalistic investigation now seems even more complex, but I am getting ahead of events. In the next story from the USA, which has been written by Aleksandr Shalnev, we touch upon questions concerning the role of intelligence agencies in the KAL-007 tragedy.
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