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The Su-15 pilot, Gennadij Osipovich received a command from the ground:
"The target has violated the national border. Destroy the target."
"I turned on the afterburner", relates the retired Colonel, "then the missile warhead lights began blinking. I reported to the ground - locked on to target. Then, suddenly I heard in my earphones:"
"Stop the attack. Climb to the target's altitude and force it to land."
"I was already approaching the intruder from below. After matching speed, I began flashing my lights, but he did not respond"
"Fire warning shots", came the command from the ground.
"I fired four bursts, more than 200 rounds. For all the good it did. After all, I was loaded with armour piercing shells, not incendiary shells. It's doubtful whether anyone could see them..."
"But, it was reported in our newspapers, quoting official sources, that you fired warning shots, namely incendiary, luminescent, tracer shells."
"That was wrong. I simply did not have any. So I fired armour piercing shells."
"However, in that case, (and this is exactly what the foreign experts maintained) the pilot of the unknown aircraft really could not see you."
"I have no doubt that they saw me. They noticed my blinking lights. The pilot's reaction left no doubt. They quickly lowered their speed. They were then flying at about 400 kilometers per hour. My speed was more than 400. I was simply unable to fly slower. In my opinion, the intruder's intentions were plain. If I did not want to go into a stall, I would be forced to overshoot them. That's exactly what happened. We had already flown over the island. It is narrow at that point. The target was about to get away. The the ground gave the command:"
"Destroy the target...!"
"That was easy to say. But how? With shells?! I had already expended 243 rounds. Ram it? I had always thought of that as rather poor taste. Ramming is the last resort. Just in case, I had already completed my turn and was coming down on top of him. Then, I had an idea. I dropped below him about 2,000 meters... afterburners. Switched on the missiles and brought the nose up sharply. Success! I have a lock on."
(I am stopping at this tense moment, because I must apologize to the readers. There was an unfortunate mistake in our last story. However, I warned that there might be mistakes. The "Boeing" matter is extremely complicated and a mass of different interpretations can occur. Therefore, Gennadij Osipovich was sent a copy of the intercept transcript for his expert assessment and he caught us in a mistake.
Z.G. is not fuel remainder, as you wrote. It is "lock on." Z.G. simply means that the missile is aimed at the target.
As for the reliability of the partial transcript, which was published in Izvestia, the pilot said that it was probably correct. In any case, he recognized his remarks in it.)
"The first missile was launched", continues the intercept pilot, "when the distance between us was about 5 kilometers. Only then could I really see the intruder. It was bigger that an IL-76, but its outline reminded me of a Tu-16. The trouble is that Soviet pilots do not study civilian aircraft of foreign companies. I knew all the military aircraft, all the reconnaissance... But that one did not look like any of them..."
"Did you have any doubts at that moment that you might have done something wrong?"
"I never thought for a minute that I would be shooting down a passenger aircraft. Anything but that! Could I admit to pursuing a "Boeing?"... At that time, I was seeing before me a large aircraft with flashing lights..."
"...The first missile hit him below the tail. There was a flash of yellow flame. The second carried away half the left wing. The flashing lights went out.
"At that point, the air was filled with an unimaginable din. I remember, that behind me, bringing up the rear, was a MiG-23. He was carrying external fuel tanks and couldn't fly fast. The pilot was constantly screeching:"
"I see the air battle! What battle was he seeing? I couldn't understand what he was talking about. (Could it be, that this very phrase, recorded on tape by Japanese specialists, was what threw off many investigators? This can't be proven yet. Author). After this, as soon as all the lights on the intruder went out, I turned to the right and heard them giving directions to the Mig for some reason."
The target is going down.
He shouted, "I don't see him."
Again the controller:
The target is going down. Target altitude 5,000 meters.
I don't see it.
The target has disappeared from the screen.
"I was still thinking that the plane I had shot was still flying. Later thay told me that it was just a fluke that the "Boeing" was destroyed by two missiles. It should have taken at least seven of the missile type I had on the Su-15 to bring it down.
On the way back, I looked at my instruments. The "cigarette butt" was already burning - the fuel emergency light. There was only enough fuel for ten minutes flight time. I had another 150 kilometers to go before I reached base. I finally made it back to the base, but as luck would have it, the airfield was covered by the "vynos" - the fog from the sea. But somehow I managed to land...
How were you greeted?
Like a hero. The whole regiment turned out. The youngsters were looking at me with envy. The older guys grabbed my by the lapels and said, "Lets have a bottle!"..." I remember, the regimental engineer embraced me, shook my hand and shouted, "Everything went well my find fellow!" In a word, there was a celebration. After all, it's not every day that we bring down an intruder. It's true that back on the ground I started getting a strange sense about the whole thing. When the division commander, Col Kornukhov called, I asked, "Is there any chance that it was one of ours?
"No.", he answered, "It was a foreigner, so make a hole in your shoulder boards for a new star."
This all took place on the morning of September the 1st.
"Then the unthinkable started. A commission arrived. Everyone started looking about me like I was some S.O.B. Except the boys in the regiment of course."
They asked me, "Did you know, that there were 260 passengers on board the aircraft?"
Afterwards, I was to hear this question many times. Much later, I went over and over what happened in my mind. I can honestly say, that I had no idea, that it was a passenger aircraft in front of me. I saw ahead of me a border violator that I had to destroy. During my time in the service, I had taken off on many intercept missions and dreamed of such a situation. I knew that if an intruder appeared, I would not let him get away. I even had a dream a few years earlier, which was very similar to what actually happened. To make sure no intruder escapes - that, if you like, is what a fighter pilot is all about."
"I repeat, all the talk about a civilian aircraft came later. At the time, it was an intruder in the sky. I remember my radio transmissions by heart. And you just showed me part of them. Take a look. There is not even a hint in them that there might have been passengers on that aircraft."
"But you still had problems..."
We have plenty of overly cautious people in our country. The army is no exception. And this was such a messy affair. I even heard that when one of our pilots shot down an American RB-47, he was at first locked up. He was released only after the investigation. And here we sat waiting for the government to make a decision. I was ready for anything. But soon Minister of Defense Ustinov phoned and everyone, as if on command, began smiling again. Reporters from Central Television arrived immediately. They were as angry as hell. They were supposed to be flying to Cuba, but here I was with my "Boeing...."
The higher ups sent me a "libretto" (1), which I was supposed to spout in front of the camera. I started to read it, but the TV guy, Aleksandr Tikhomirov, made a face. It wouldn't do. He wanted to improvise.
I requested a break. Went back with the technicians. Drank a glass of vodka. And began speaking - about peace, about the atomic bomb... I could never speak so well now.
Later, they suggested I transfer to a new base. I requested the place, where I first began flying, where I was married. Everyone knew me there and I knew them. The Commander in Chief of the Air Forces gave me his plane. And I, like a white man, flew across the whole country to my new assignment.
I arrived. There was a stir. People were interested in talking with me. Everything is quiet now. But then... There were even poems, "From the east came a bro, He struck a terrible blow." (2)
In general, the "Boeing" incident made things easier. They found an apartment for me and everything else. Once I went to the chief in charge of telephones. I submitted a request for a telephone in my apartment. He said, "Where are you from, commander, the moon? We have a five year waiting list." Then later, he suddenly recognized me, "Wait a minute. Who are you? Are you that guy? Bring your money tomorrow. You will get your telephone."
It's sad to recall that now...
"Gennadij, why did you go into the reserves?"
"Long after the "Boeing" incident, I was delivering a fighter from the factory, when the engine stopped. There were ammunition warehouses below. However, I was able to aim the plane off to the side. However, I had to parachute out at a low altitude. I injured my spine. It was almost a year before I recovered. I was physically unable to fly after this. But if I couldn't fly, then what was there for me to do? I wasn't cut out to be put in charge of some warehouse. Therefore, I retired into the reserves as soon as I was eligible. People not associated with the air force do not understand my decision. They laugh and call me foolish..."
"You mentioned people playing it safe and about the "libretto" for your television interview. What did you mean by that?"
"I was surprised that some of the important leaders were so wishy washy. Because for the most part, I have no doubts, even now, that we were right in what we did. For a period of two and a half hours, an unidentified aircraft was violating our air space. During this time, it flew over 2,000 kilometers. All the air traffic controllers from foreign governments were silent, busy chewing gum. What do you order done in such a situation? Sit with folded hand? We shot it down legally. But later they began to lie about little things. They said, you know, that the aircraft was flying without lights, that tracer shells were fired as a warning, that I was in radio communications with him, or tried to do this on emergency frequency 121.5 Mhz. Why, there wasn't any time for this! That would mean that I would be out of contact with the ground. I am sure that we tried too hard to appear completely innocent and as a result, we over did it..."
"As for me, I did my duty to the end. If I were ever in the same situation, (I am talking about an intruder of course, not a civilian aircraft with passengers on board) I would do everything I could to intercept the aircraft. That is what I trained and studied for all my life. And that, be assured, is not boasting."
"Were you decorated for this action?"
"No. One of my comrades received a promotion, another received a medal. But I - nothing. But that is not the point."
"What do you do today?"
"What is there for a pensioner to do? I bought a plot of land. Built a home. I raise strawberries. I am expecting a grandson. My daughter promised by summer... I dream of giving him my uniform. That is all I have left from the air force. I am still waiting for the truth to come out about the "Boeing", how it could have happened, how it came to be over our territory, what was its purpose? And more. Was the "black box" ever found?! And if yes, what does it show? This is not idle curiosity; it's vital so such mistakes are not repeated. By the way, I heard that back on Sakhalin, they found the "Boeing." That they even examined it. But they did not find any people on it. However, I explain this, by the fact that there are crabs in the sea off Sakhalin, that immediately devour everything... I heard that they only found a hand in a black glove. Maybe that was the hand that piloted the aircraft I shot down? You know, I am not sure even now that there were passengers on board. You can't write everyone off to crabs... There must have been something left?... I still subscribe to the old version, that this was a spy plane. In any case, he didn't overfly our territory by accident."
* * *
The last bits of the radio transmission spoken by the pilot were
Breaking off the attack
It was 18:26 Greenwich time.
According to experts, from the height at which the Boeing-747 was flying, it took at least 10 minutes for the aircraft to fall to the sea.
All passengers were fully conscious during those terrible minutes. The missile from our fighter destroyed the engine and the wing, but not the fuselage.
(1). Libretto - an opera script.
(2). Sorry. A poet I'm not.
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