The mystery of the KAL-007

Izvestia Investigation, Andrej ILLESH, 1991. Found at Roy Cochrun's

Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | Next

Region map | Back to Virtual Aircraft Museum

This report is a continuation of the investigation by Andrej ILLESH. The task facing the reporters is clear from the series headline - "The Mystery of the Korean Boeing-747." Our international journalistic investigation is trying to clear up the mystery that to this day still surrounds the story of the death of those 269 passengers on flight KAL-007 over Sakhalin.

Report from the USA by Aleksandr SHALNEV. Part 1

The story of the destruction by a Soviet SU-15 interceptor of the giant "Jumbo", as a Boeing-747 is customarily called, shocked the entire world. A wide variety of forces and organization were drawn into the circle of this scandal - politicians, military, intelligence agencies... The incident was investigated by the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization.

..."The report of the ICAO general secretary is highly objectionable and the USSR representative will move for disapproval of this report by the ICAO Council." Thus ended the speech of the Soviet delegate at a meeting during the 111th session of the ICAO Council at which the tragedy of the Korean Boeing had been discussed. This meeting took place in Montreal on Wednesday, 29 February 1984...

Our objections and protests were useless at that point and of no major importance anyway. After spending almost half a year in heated debates over the destruction of the Korean airliner, debates which began at 10:00 A.M. 15 September 1983, the Council took a secret vote and accepted a special resolution approving the report of the General Secretary of the ICAO.

This resolution expressed deep regrets firstly that the USSR did not cooperate with other countries in their search and rescue efforts and secondly that the USSR did not cooperate in the investigation the International Civil Aviation Organization conducted.

We, the Soviet side, fought this resolution up till the last minutes. We dredged up some ancient rule on voting procedures from the archives, and citing this rule, argued that no document could be accepted with an absolute majority! According to this rule, the "pass" number was seventeen. We probably hoped that since it was a secret vote, we could do some behind the scenes maneuvering and ensure that some delegates, even if they would not vote against it, would at least simply abstain. No luck. Nine delegates abstained. There were twenty votes for and two against (us and apparently Czechoslovakia).

As far as I know, neither the resolution nor the report prepared by the General Secretary of the ICAO on the results of the investigation were every published in our newspapers - neither the full report nor anything which might indicate the substance of the report. The Soviet side preferred to limit itself to angry commentaries, using a brilliant formula, which was first used in connection with the destruction of the Boeing-747 by one of our highly placed official briefers. According to this formula:

"Our people can read between the lines. And if we say, that the aircraft continued flying toward the Sea of Japan, they can guess what happened..."

Izvestia, alas, does not have room for the whole report, which consists of almost 300 pages of text, table, and graphs. I will try to extract the basics necessary for Izvestia's investigation. The report itself probably should be published separately. At least for historians... (I think that this report, and more importantly, the attitude of the leadership of Soviet civil aviation, Aeroflot, toward that September 1983 incident and the subsequent position of the USSR, is extremely important today. Not only for specialists, but more importantly for us, because we are all passengers. Air safety is a personnel concern. We intend discussing this further during our investigation. Andrej ILLESH).

We will begin by saying that the USSR for all intents and purposes did not assist the investigators at all. We even protested against including in the ICAO document a sentence saying all participants should cooperate with the investigation without any objections. Such phrasing, declared the Soviet delegate, is unacceptable to the Soviet Union, because "it assumes unconditional cooperation."

This point was also voted on. We lost.

We lost the vote, but in actuality, the only thing we agreed to in terms of actual assistance was to allow the General Secretary of the ICAO and a chief of the investigative group to visit the USSR. According to the report, they were given access to an air base and shown a SU-15 interceptor like the one that was used on the 1st of September 1983.

"Official representatives of the USSR", according to the report, "informed the General Secretary, that they could not agree to the visit (to the USSR. author) of the entire ICAO investigative group, since such a visit would be in contradiction of of the national law of the USSR. Moreover, the official representatives suggest that there is no provision for the ICAO investigative group in article 26 of the Chicago Conventions covering international aviation or in supplement 13 to those conventions."

Meanwhile (we were reminded of this by a delegate from South Korea at one of the sessions of the ICAO council) in 1973, when an Israeli shot down a Libyan passenger aircraft, the Soviet Union worked energetically to ensure Israeli cooperation with ICAO investigators. It was said at the meetings that the authority of the Council of the ICAO in such matters was clearly specified in Article 55 (paragraph E) of the Chicago Conventions.

We also refused, or rather ignored, the general secretary's request to give him access to "the tapes or transcripts of the radio conversations, as well as the radar data. In other words, the material that the USSR in all likelihood possessed."

Among the materials requested by the ICAO were recordings of the radio transmissions related to the first attempt to intercept the Boeing, the one undertaken back over kamchatka, and the recordings of commands given to the interceptors during the second, tragic, attempt over Sakhalin.

The absence of these materials led the ICAO investigators to conclude that "Since there are no indications that the KAL-007 crew noticed the interception attempts, we have to conclude that the crew did not know about these attempts."

In the opinion of the report's authors, "There is also no evidence that visual identification procedures were completely carried out" (by Soviet pilots. author). Otherwise, the ICAO investigators believe, it would have been possible to identify the type of the plane and to read the markings that identified it as a civilian aircraft.

The report refutes the complete series of theories and contentions presented by the soviet authorities, not so much to explain as to justify the tragedy over Sakhalin.

For example, our thesis that KAL-007 deliberately delayed taking off from Anchorage for 40 minutes was demolished with hardly any effort. The idea behind the delay (according to Soviet propaganda) was to coordinate the flight with the orbit of reconnaissance satellites. This thesis was easily refuted. Experts simply looked at the registration logs of the Anchorage airport. The KAL aircraft was always changing its take off time to Seoul depending on the weather and other conditions in order to arrive at the South Korean capital no earlier that 6:00 AM. This was when the Kimpo International Airport opened its custom and baggage services.

In my opinion, the key conclusion of the ICAO report is this:

"In the course of investigation, no evidence was discovered that would point to the fact that the KAL-007 crew knew, at any time during the flight, that they were off course."

I must say, however, that in several situations, the people preparing the report were clearly influenced by Washington. They did not critically or analytically evaluate the information presented by the American government. They accepted it at face value and gave no thought to how precise or, more importantly, how complete it was. The later concerns first of all the issue of the relation between the US Air Force and the Civil Aviation Administration, or the issue of the exchange of radar tracking between them. We will discuss these issues in more detail later. For now I will limit myself to a question that was not discussed in the report and that still has not been clearly answered. Did the US Air Force radars detects the Boeing's deviation from its flight route? If the answer is yes, then why did they not inform the federal administration controllers, who should then have warned the crew.

Yes, there are unquestionably vague spots in the ICAO report. It contains, however, quite a few "blank spots," as well. The report does not contain absolutely firm, hard conclusions which are beyond any objections. It basically only points to certain ideas and these thoughts are unfortunately mostly against us.

Even if we were 100-percent innocent in what happened during the night of 1 September over Sakhalin, the attempts to cover up facts that could be known only to us, attempts so clumsy that no one could help noticing them, would have prompted many to question our innocence. As it was, instead of admitting our part of the blame, the greater one, and attempting to find out the whole truth, we simply convinced everybody by our evasions that the USSR, and nobody else, was to blame!

But if you examine the facts, and this is what we will try to do in the following articles of the Izvestia investigation, the USSR is not the only one at fault for what happened. There is evidence, even though it is circumstantial. that confirms what was said in the preliminary account of the investigation conducted by the Soviet Union. In this account, which is attached to the ICAO report as an addendum, the radar services of the United States and Japan, which were "providing navigational support to the South Korean aircraft, did not use the means available to them for detection and prevention of such significant deviation of the aircraft from its course.

If they had, perhaps, the tragedy would not have happened.

There is another addendum to the ICAO report, which is the South Korean government's "Preliminary Report of the Committee for Investigation of the incident." According to an official list, this project, which was created under the leadership of the deputy minister of transportation, included representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs, justice, and defense. The list does not indicate, however, representatives of the South Korean intelligence services. As I understand, they were there also and not as mere "observers."

The South Koreans' main conclusion was, "It is quite probable that the aircraft was shot down under circumstances where, until the very last minute (the crew) did not know that Soviet interceptors were closing in."

What does "until the very last minute" mean? Is it used in the figurative sense that the crew learned about the interceptors when the missiles had already hit the aircraft and there was absolutely nothing anybody could do? Or in the literal sense, that the crew still had time, even though incredibly little, to avert the tragedy?

These questions are for South Korea. I know that they are following Izvestia very closely. Perhaps they would like to answer this question. Was there a final report in addition to the "Preliminary Report?" If yes, what were its conclusions and what information was it based on?

Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | Next

Back to Virtual Aircraft Museum