The mystery of the KAL-007

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

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Report from the USA by Aleksandr SHALNEV. Part 2

I counted two or three dozen telephone booths in that section of the Anchorage Airport set aside for through passengers on international flights. If you rop in some coins or punch in your credit card number, you can call anywhere you want, even Moscow.

Telephones are not limited to just the main areas of the Anchorage airport or other international airports in America. Just because you have passed through customs and passport control and therefore, crossed the national border does not in any way mean that you are cut off from the outside world, not during those hours of waiting in the lounge, during the flight, waiting in the baggage lines or for any other reason at the end of your flight.

In Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 a public telephone cannot be found on the other side of passport control and customs lines. I remember arriving once and running through endless corridors trying to make an urgent call to town and tell my family something important that I had forgotten in the haste of my departure. I finally found a telephone, but alas, it was in the office of the border chief. "This is the border", he said gravely, "It is not permitted..."

So I left without making my call.

But in Anchorage, it was permitted. Call as many times as you want, as long as you have the money...

Early that morning or rather very later at night, almost all the public phone booths were busy. The passengers of flight KAL-007, who had arrived from New York, rested a bit after the tiresome 8 hour flight and were now ready to continue their flight to Seoul. They called their relatives, acquaintances and friends. Some simply to say that everything was alright and they expected no flight delays. One person was calling, because it was customary in their family that no matter where the father, son or daughter went, they had to call home during the trip and say that they were alive and well.

None of the callers knew they would all be dead in about 6 hours.

From the report of the General Secretary of the International

"The KAL aircraft, flight 007, arrived in Anchorage at 11:30 A.M. Greenwich Mean time(2:30 A.M. local Alaskan time. author) and parked at gate 2N at 11:37. The flight from New York to Anchorage had been uneventful. All three inertia navigational systems and the weather radar system worked as normal;"

"The crew for the Anchorage to Seoul leg of the flight arrived in Anchorage via Toronto on a freight flight at 22:37 on 30 August and checked in at the KAL company quarters. An hour and twenty minutes before take off time from Anchorage, the crew took a bus from their quarters and upon arriving at the airport proceeded to the pre flight meeting. During the meeting, which was conducted by the air line's dispatcher, they discussed the take off time, the flight route, flight altitude, backup airports, the weather at the backup airports, winds along the flight path, temperature and air conditions, details of the computerized flight plan... The computerized flight plans, one per crew member, were checked against maps to ensure they agreed with each other."

"According to the air line's schedule, 007 was supposed to depart Anchorage at 12:20 and arrive in Seoul at 21:00(at 6:00 A.M. Korean Standard Time. author.). But since the head winds were less than expected, the flight time, according to the computer plan, had been reduced from eight hours 20 minutes to 7 hours 50 3 minutes. In such cases, the air line adjusts the departure time from Anchorage so that the plane arrives in Seoul at 21:00. Not only because that is the scheduled arrival time, but also because the airport customs and baggage services do not start work before this time. The departure time was changed to 12:50 (boldface mine. author).

"After 240 passengers and 29 crew members, which included the six people, who were to crew the return flight from Seoul, had boarded the plane, 007 requested permission from the dispatcher to depart the gate."

"At 12:51, the aircraft was given permission to depart gate 2N... At 12:58 007 received permission to take off from runway number 32. At 13:00, the aircraft was in the air. Radar contact was established immediately and (007) was given permission to go to altitude FL 310 (31,000 feet or 10 kilometers. author)."

The excerpts from the transcript which I will now quote were not included in the ICAO General Secretary's report. Not because the General Secretary and his investigative group, which by the way conducted their investigation in record time - less than three months, did not want the information, but because neither the Gen. Sec. nor his crew apparently even knew about this information.

This information appeared later.

The fact that it became available at all is credited to Lawrence Porter, who worked for more than 20 years at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and who, having become an independent expert, conducted an acoustic analysis of recordings made at the Air Traffic Control Center in Anchorage on 31 August 1983. These recordings are not conversations between pilots and the air traffic controllers. They are of conversations among the dispatchers themselves. (During Andrey Illesh's investigation, Izvestia published this dialogue in an abridged form. Now we are publishing all the "nuances" - author).

So here is the traffic controllers' dialogue:

"Hey, guys, you have someone over there heading straight for the Russian air defense zone."

You are kidding.

Somebody must warn him.

This information should have been transmitted right away instead of waiting.

They cannot believe it...(give him his coordinates over the radio).

Lawrence Porter put in parentheses the words he was not 100 percent sure of. The transcription was very difficult to make out due to poor readability and interference.

He guarantees the rest.

Now I want to establish the time of these recordings. The first phrase quoted above was spoken at 14:34:01 GMT. The last - at 14:34:16 GMT.

One and a half hours before this, Chon Byun-Ikh, the 45-year-old captain of the Boeing-747, former South Korean Air Force pilot, lifted the enormous aircraft from Runway 32 in Anchorage and took a course for Seoul.

Or did he only think so?

Or did he deliberately take a course other that toward Seoul?

Izvestia's investigation has so far not produced a clear answer to these two questions. We of course know that the Soviet side presented a report to the ICAO in the fall of 1983, which answered the second question with an unequivocal, "Yes." We also know that from the point of view of the American side, the first question must be, "Yes..."

As for the opinion of the South Korean side, the preliminary report sent by Seoul to the ICAO does not admit deviation from the flight path at all. Judging by this report, KAL-007 was on course, in the air corridor which was then designated as R20, but which since the tragedy has been changed and renamed.

By the way, the contention that there were no deviations from the flight path is used by KAL lawyers as the key defense argument in the lawsuit which has already been going on for several years in regard to claims filed by the families of victims of this tragedy.

In principle, the verdict was decided in August 1989. A six-person jury decided that the KAL-007 crew was guilty of criminal negligence in deviating from the prescribed flight path. Such a decision, from a practical viewpoint, means that the victims' families may now sue the South Korean company for any sum the courts agree to award them, above the $75,000 stipulated by the Warsaw Convention for the death of each passenger.

This concerns tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars...

I want to mention what I feel is an important fact. Many of those whose husbands, wives, children, and close relatives perished a little more than seven years ago are now in serious financial difficulties. They can barely make ends meet. In America, $75,000 is not much money. It is just the cost of three and a half years in an average college. As I was told by the association for families of KAL-007 victims, from time to time the association takes up a collection to help those who cannot make it without outside help. This money does not last long, of course.

As for the lawsuit, KAL's or, to be exact, its insurance company's lawyers, appealed the decision. As it was explained to me, their argument goes as follows: "When the aircraft left Anchorage, all instrumentation was in working order. The crew was completely prepared, both personally and professionally. The flight was going according to plan. What happened to the plane is a mystery, and no company employee is guilty of criminal negligence, especially a premeditated one. Therefore the case should be closed."

The appeal is being processed now and, as I understand it, it should be accepted or rejected no later than May. The latest hearings occurred last Friday in the Court of Appeals. I was told that the judge displayed a thorough knowledge of the articles appearing in Izvestia concerning the South Korean Boeing. If I correctly understood the explanations given to me, the fact that debris was discovered at such a distance from route R20 seriously complicates Korean company's defense. This fact shows that the aircraft did stray off course, and that, at the very least, the crew was inattentive. However, if hundreds of lives are in your care, inattentiveness is criminal negligence.

Of course, a lot or, to be exact, practically everything will depend on the "black box." On the information inside it. This information may lead to unforeseen results - legal, political, financial, and military...

About the "black boxes." There were two on board the Boeing-747. One was designed to record flight information. The second recorded all conversations that took place in the cockpit. The tape in the second "black box" is a half hours worth of tape, which continueously loops around in a circle and records the last half an hour of conversation in the cockpit. It does not everything from the beginning of the flight. Only the last thirty minutes preceding the tragedy were on tape. The first "black box" recorded everything that happened to the plane during the 25 hours preceding the tragedy.

I have no information on what color of the "black boxes" on the South Korean Boeing were. Usually, they are bright yellow or bright orange. Sometimes they just have orange stripes. They are not buoyant. They sink immediately if the plane crashes into the sea. (I will note in parentheses, that Soviet experts confirm this: The boxes are orange and there is not a single plane in the world equipped with boxes that are capable of floating - Andrej Illesh).

The first is 12.8 kg. The second is 8.2 kg. Both boxes are heat-resistant and capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,100 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.

The first box (the one that records flight information, flight speed, altitude, course, aileron positions, etc) is equipped with a special battery-powered acoustical system. The batteries are good 30 days. The system starts working when its sensors come in contact with water. It starts sending radio signals which, in theory, are supposed to provide a fix on the location of the "black box."

The "black boxes" are not round or shaped like a football. To be precise, the two that were installed in the Boeing above the coat compartment in the left part of the fuselage, next to the toilets were 43.8 x 19.3 x 12.4 centimeters for the first and 32 x 12.4 x 19.3 centimeters for the latter. The serial number for the first was 3069 and for the second - 1397. The first cost $14,000, the second $8,000.

I took this data from the ICAO general secretary's report and from the preliminary report prepared by the Government of South Korea. If this data is correct, then it does not conform with some of the evidence already published in Izvestia. It does not conform mainly with the evidence that three "black boxes" were found and recovered from the bottom of the sea.

Perhaps, the third box was something altogether different! (This question, obviously, is addressed to those who installed these boxes, and those who found them. The editors will try to solve this puzzle by meeting those in the USSR who recovered instrumentation from the downed Boeing from the bottom of the Sea of Japan - Andrej Illesh).

...The document before me now, however, carries the letterhead - "Department of the Air Force, Headquarters of the Alaskan Region NORAD (North American Air Defense. author), Elmendorf Air Force Base. Alaska."

The document is titled "Control Over Aircraft Operating in Air Space Adjacent to the Soviet Union."

There will be more about the revelations in this document in our next report.

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