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The Case of KAL 007
Various ^ | Various

Posted on 12/05/2003 11:43:40 AM PST by struwwelpeter

At 3:30 in the morning of August 31st, 1983, Korean Airlines flight 007 landed at Merrill Field in Anchorage, Alaska. An hour and a half later it took off from Runway 32 bound for Seoul's Kimpo airport. Aboard were 240 passengers, a cabin crew of 20, a three-man flight crew and six other KAL crew members deadheading back to Seoul.

Shortly after take-off, Flight 007 was cleared directly to the Bethel VOR beacon and then on to the Romeo 20 route. However, the aircraft started diverging from its intended course and passed 12 NM North of the Bethel beacon. The reason for this deviation is unknown. It is quite possible that the cockpit crew programmed the inertial navigation system (INS) computers incorrectly. In the era before GPS, aircraft used INS to calculate their courses and locations, most using several backups in case of malfuntion. The Boeing 747 used three independent INS, all of which depended on manual entry of the aircraft's starting location. Modern aircraft do not fly with true navigators, instead they rely on electronic navigation aids, such as GPS and INS, as well as radio beacons and ground controlled approach radars. In the 1980s, INS devices were heavily relied on to travel from point to point in the skies.

To set up an inertial navigation computer, a known, surveyed position at the airport is used. If the aircraft was not at this location, or moved during the INS set up, or the wrong coordinates were inputted, the result would be an error. FAA rules at the time required that each INS be loaded independently by a different member of the flight crew as well, but this probably did not always occur, especially on such a routine flight.

While the airline was flying from Alaska, a US Air Force reconnaissance aircraft was performing routine surveillance of the Soviet Union, evaluating Soviet compliance with missile treaties. The RC-135 S-model, codenamed Cobra Ball, was assigned to the 24th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Its highly classified mission: await confirmation of missile launches from Soviet test ranges in Kazakhstan, then dash from its staging base at Shemya, in the Aleutians, and fly as close to the impact area on the Kamchatka penninsula as Soviet air defenses would allow.


On a normal mission eighteen crewmembers manned the "Ball." Up front sat two experienced pilots and two senior navigators - mistakes in location were simply not allowed in the dangerous areas where they were flying. Up to nine electronic warfare and reconnaissance systems officers, called "Ravens," sat at a bank of consoles running along the right side of the aircraft. The Ravens analyzed radar signals intercepted by the dozens of lumps and bumps protruding from the skin of their aircraft, as well as the special cameras which were to capture the images and spectra of Soviet missiles re-entering the atmosphere in route to the Kamchatka test range.

A few enlisted specialists sat to the Ravens' right, almost back to the tail. One Morse operator, a cryptolinguist, one to two tactical voice specialists, and their airborne mission supervisor monitored the Soviet air defense forces. One or two in-flight maintenace crew members were also assigned, to keep the sophisticated and crotchety electronics up and running.

Cobra Ball missions off the Kamchatka test range were generally short - usually loitering in the area only a few hours, in contrast to the eight to twelve hour missions other RC-135 models were tasked with. While the doomed Korean airline was entering the area, the military aircraft was already departing.

Once the crews of reconnaissance missions leave a "sensitive area," intensive monitoring of Soviet radio channels generally decreases, especially once the mission aircraft enters US airspace. Crew members might tune into FM music stations, stretch tired muscles, and either replenish their coffee mugs or turn their attention to the voluminous paperwork associated with their missions. A lucky few might even catch a quick nap before landing.


Despite the claims of the HBO movie Tailspin: Behind the Korean Airline Tragedy. , and Angela Landsbury's Shootdown, this mission reportedly did not pick up indications of unusual air defense activity as it left the area. At a ground station in Japan, however, there was plenty of activity. Morse and voice tracking specialists at Misawa airbase noted that a major alert underway at the Soviet air defense base at Petropavlovsk, and several urgent intelligent reports were sent to the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, as well as to national command authorities in Washington, DC.

From analyses of these reports, as well as from later debriefings of former Soviet officers who were involved with the tragedy, when KAL007 entered the Bering Sea Soviet radar operators at first assumed it was the reconnaissance aircraft returning to their area, and continued plotting its course. When the aircraft continued toward the coastline of the Kamchatka penninsula, toward their far east fleet's home port, the Russians were reported to be stunned. Some documents indicate that up to six MiG-23 fighters and Su-15 interceptors were scrambled to investigate.

In addition to the delay in launching fighters, there was a confusion of responsibility, since the MiGs were assigned to Soviet tactical air forces under the Soviet army, while the Sukhoi aircraft were under air defense command (aPVO-S). Another delay in receiving authorization from Khabarovsk and Moscow, allowed the airliner to continue across Kamchatka. At one point KAL 007 even flew right over one of the bases trying to stop the intrusion.


Once KAL 007 left Russian airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk and the fighters returned to their bases on Kamchatka. Now about four hours into its flight, the aircraft passed abeam the Nippi beacon, and Japanese approach radar showed it to be 185 NM off course and heading for the Soviet island of Sakhalin. Analysis of cockpit conversations on the airliner indicates that the crew wondered why other aircraft along their flight route were reporting different weather and winds than they were observing.

An excerpt from the communications of KAL 007 and another airliner along its flight path:

18:05:04 "Ask him how many knots?"
18:05:07 "Um which direction, which direction?"
18:05:15 "Thirty degrees? Thirty knots?"
18:05:18 "Thirty, um, forty degrees direction, THIRTY FIVE KNOTS
18:05:23 "Ah! You got so much! We still got headwind. Headwind two hundred fifteen degrees FIFTEEN KNOTS"
18:05:32 "Is it so? But according to FLIGHT PLAN wind direction THREE SIX ZERO FIFTEEN KNOTS approximately."

At 1742 and 1754, respectively, two Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 fighters were scrambled from their airbase at Dolinsk-Sokol, on the island of Sakhalin, to head off the aircraft. KAL 007 re-entered Soviet airspace at 1816. Consistent with their training, the Soviet pilots intercepted the airliner from the rear and below, thus positioning themselves in the airliner's 'blind spot'. One of the interceptors returned to base due to mechanical problems, while the other SU-15, commanded by Squadron Commander Major (soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel) Gennady Osipovich, continued to stalk the airliner.

The airliner continued on, oblivious, with the Flagon interceptor following behind. During this time there was probably furious communications between Moscow and Khabarovsk, as to what should be done about the intrustion. No US reconnaissance aircraft had entered Soviet airspace since 1960, based on a promise made by President Eisenhower to Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Nothing like this had happened in decades.

At first, the Soviets were unsure if even this was the US aircraft - their intelligence showed that the US reconnaissance aircraft was requesting landing clearance at Shemya at the same time the unidentified aircraft was overflying Soviet air space. What it was clear to them was that, whatever the nationality of the unidentified plane, it was off course and heading toward a restricted area.

Such a dilemma had been easily solved in Brezhnev's day. On April 20th, 1978, another Korean Air passenger jet entered Soviet airspace over the Kola penninsula on the northwestern edge of the Soviet Union. This airliner was immediately shot down, but it managed to crashland on a frozen lake and minimize casualties. The new leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, was attempting to put a 'kinder face' on the Soviet system, and in so doing to drum up support in certain circles in Western Europe and America. Destroying a civilian airliner would not fit well with the 'peaceful socialist republic' mirage he wished to create.

Letting the airliner go was probably the least palatable option. To allow it to leave Soviet air space would cause ridicule in Moscow and abroad. Who wanted to stand before the Politburo and explain why the vaunted Soviet military could not even defend the airspace directly above one of its largest airbases?

Forcing the wayward airliner down was also not an option; there was no way to signal the aircraft. Western civilian aircraft at the time communicated predominately in the UHF frequencies, while Soviet fighters used VHF. A former officer at the base also noted that during the overflight of the Korean airliner no one who spoke English could be located quickly enough, and that MiG and Sukhoi aircraft did not use tracer bullets that could have been used serve as 'warning shots'.

At 1822 the Korean airliner was leaving Soviet airspace for the second time, and a decision finally arrived at. Linguists at Misawa airbase, Japan, were stunned to hear the Soviet tower controller at Dolinsk-Sokol' broadcast on 130.75MHz: "Unichtozhit' tsel', unichtozhit' tsel'." (A recording of this was played at the United Nations immediately following the shootdown.) In clear, unencrypted Russian VHF single-sideband transmission, Major Osipovich was ordered to 'destroy the target'. Osipovich stated that he confirmed the order, then launched two "Anab" air-to-air missiles in a salvo, one or both of which struck the Boeing at 1826 GMT.

Data from the recovered "black box" data recorder on the 747, as well as the crew's last words transcribed on the cockpit voice recorder, record the missiles' deadly effect.


Cabin pressure was immediately lost and the aircraft suffered severe control problems. It pitched into a steep climb, followed by a stall and unrecoverable rapid descent into the Gulf of Tartary just of Sakhalin island. Of the 269 passengers and crew, there were no survivors.


Andropov's military chief of staff, Marshal of Soviet Air Forces N. V. Ogarkov, gave a press conference soon after the shootdown, claiming that the US Air Force surveillance plane was extremely similar and flying alongside the Korean airliner, which 'confused' the Soviet air defenses. At one point, he tried to claim that the airliner was itself performing reconnaissance for the Americans. A Boeing 747 is almost twice as large as the 707 airframe on which the RC-135 is based, and at the time was flying in a straight line while the RC-135 was flying a figure-8 pattern until it turned away from Soviet airspace and headed back to Shemya. Ogarkov, interestingly enough, admitted to failings in the Soviet air defense radars' range and accuracy, which has been coroborated by former Soviet officers working in this field.

At the UN Security Council, US representitives played the tape of ground-controlled intercept chatter, and President Reagan in his address to the UN asked: "What can be said about Soviet credibility, when they so flagrantly lie about such a heinous act? What can be the scope of legitimate mutual discourse with a state whose values permit such atrocities? And what are we to make of a regime which establishes one set of standards for itself, and another for the rest of humankind? The brutality of this action [must] not be compounded through silence or the cynical distortion of the evidence now at hand..."

President Reagen soon escalated the rhetoric: "There is no way that a pilot could mistake this for anything other than a civilian airliner. They deny the deed, but in their conflicting and misleading protestations, the Soviets reveal that, yes, shooting down a plane, even one with hundreds of innocent men, women, children and babies, is a part of their normal procedure, if that plane is in what they claim as their air space. This was the Soviet Union against the world, and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere. It was an act of barbarism, born of a society which wantonly disregards individual rights and the value of human life, and seeks constantly to expand and dominate other nations."

Not surprisingly, the courts concluded that the Soviets were not completely to blame:

Families of victims of the 1983 downing of a Korean Air Lines jumbo jet by a Soviet fighter may collect unlimited compensatory damages from the airline because of the crew's "willful misconduct" in straying over Soviet air-space, a Federal court jury in Washington ruled yesterday . . . The term is legally defined as an intentional act performed with knowledge of likely injury to passengers or "with reckless disregard of the consequences."

Judge Robinson earlier dismissed lawsuits against the Soviet Government; the Boeing Company, the builder of the 747; Litton Industries, which made its navigation systems; and the United States Government, which employed the traffic controllers involved in the first part of the flight.

New York Times, Aug. 3, 1989 (Richard Witkin)

Much has been made of the presence of one VIP passenger - Congressman Lawrence P. McDonald, Republican Representative from Georgia's 7th District. A conspiracy theory has been woven around this staunch, anti-communist's death at the hands of his biggest foes, but all indications are that his appearance on KAL 007 was only a coincidence, the congressman merely flying to South Korea to make a routine tour of US bases there.

The pilot who destroyed this airliner, then newly promoted to lieutenant colonel, gave an interview to the Soviet newspaper Izvestia in 1990, during Gorbachev's glasnost period, one year before the misinformed movie Shootdown. Osipovich claimed that at first they thought the aircraft was military, and radioed that he could see the intruder's navigation lights and flashing beacon. He said during his post-mission debriefing he was queried extensively about the lights, and that another officer later mentioned to him that the intruder "might be a passenger aircraft". Flying with lights on hardly fit the profile of a secret reconnaissance flight. Osipovich claimed in this interview that we was ordered to warn the intruder to land by flashing his lights and firing his cannon. Later he denied that this was the case, and as stated earlier, at 40,000 feet this provides little warning to a sleepy cockpit crew, since they shells were not tracer. The transcript of the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication the crew knew that an interception was in progress.

On April 28, 1991, Osipovich told a Korean television network straight out that he knew he was firing at a commercial plane. He also charged that his superiors had ordered him to lie - to say that the intruder was flying without lights and that he tried to contact it by radio and warn it by firing tracers (either of which were impossible).

On the 13th anniversary of the KAL007 shootdown, Alvin A. Snyder, the disgruntled former director of television for the US Information Agency wrote a scathing article in the Washington Post. He claimed that he had produced a misleading video accusing the Soviets of shooting down the Korean airliner. Snyder alleges that he had learned of taped exchanges between the Soviet ground controllers and the pilot of the plane that downed KAL007, fantasy tapes which showed that the Soviets acted on the assumption that it was an American RC-135 spy plane. He also "apologized" for misleading the world.

Alvin Snyder is a fool and liar. He has no need to apologize - the charge made in his video and by President Reagan - that the Soviets knew that they were shooting down a civilian airliner - is completely true. At first they might have assumed that the intruder was an Air Force RC-135, but that assumption was proven wrong as soon as the inteceptors closed with the airliner.

Alvin Snyder ignores pilot Osipovich's statements in order to create a drama were the US is the culprit. Like many liberals, Snyder wants the American people to believe that the Soviets were telling the truth when they claimed that they destroyed KAL007 because it was thought to be an "American spyplane." The truth is that the Soviet Union killed 269 men, women, and children simply because they were about to escape unharmed.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Government; Russia; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: cobraball; coldwar; freeperresearch; kal007; parpro; rc135; reconnaissance; shootdown; sovietunion; tailspin
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A&E's recent reprisal of "Shootdown" prompted me to dust off this old posting. A YEAR before this BS was filmed, Izvestiya released volumes of information showing the Soviet Union to be at fault. They even interviewed the pilot, who stated that he knew it was a civilian airliner while shooting it down.

Of course, that doesn't stop the libs from repeating a lie over and over again. Once the libs do a send up on any event, it becomes 'history' - which is why that Reagan mini-series had to be stopped.

1 posted on 12/05/2003 11:43:41 AM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: struwwelpeter
There's a book: "Massacre KAL007" that proposes a fairly credible theory on why KAL007 was shot down. KAL paid huge bonuses to crews that saved fuel. One trick was to radio an incorrectly close position to get earlier sequencing in the approach pattern. Another, according to this book, was to take shortcuts through Soviet airspace. A Soviet base commander had apparently been executed for failing to intercept these overflights. Thus the stage was set. An intrusion and a very itchy trigger-finger.
2 posted on 12/05/2003 11:56:52 AM PST by Dilbert56
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To: struwwelpeter
Wasn't the President of the John Birch Society on board KAL 007 or was that McDonald also?
3 posted on 12/05/2003 12:02:50 PM PST by vetvetdoug
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To: Dilbert56
Another very intriguing item is that E-Systems had fitted Electronic Warfare on the 747. Some think that the Soviets were tricked into thinking the 747 was the military craft by sending a false signal that emulated the C-135.

Yet another more radical theory is that it was a conspiracy to kill a congressman who was an extreme right winger, a John Birch Society member, I believe.

Lots of theories. One thing is sure -- the Soviet military never recuperated after this incident. They revealed their shortcomings and soon after fell far behind the U.S. military during the Reagan Administration, and eventually collapsed.

4 posted on 12/05/2003 12:04:37 PM PST by TommyDale
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To: Dilbert56
It would probably take some awesome navigation skills to set up the INS for such a precise deviation, and doesn't explain why the cockpit recordings show surprise at the unexpected weather and wind along their route.

I lean towards error with the inertial nav. Another KAL plane in 1978 was flying from London to Alaska, once it approached the North Pole it made almost a 180 degree turn and headed back south towards Murmansk. Those guys were luckier than KAL 007, they managed to bring it down on a lake near Olenogorsk.

Crews might've 'cut the corners' - turning a few minutes late and slightly overflying - but flying directly over Petropavlovsk, no way.

5 posted on 12/05/2003 12:04:45 PM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: TommyDale
that E-Systems had fitted Electronic Warfare on the 747.

Some Soviet dezinformatsiya just lives on and on. ;-)

This may be referring to the airborne laser platform, or an E-4 upgrade. How about a link?

6 posted on 12/05/2003 12:07:00 PM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: vetvetdoug
A buddy of mine who is a former Air Force Intel officer once told me that the plane was shot down to kill one of the passengers. When I asked him for details he refused to say anything else.
7 posted on 12/05/2003 12:12:06 PM PST by Taylor42
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To: struwwelpeter
Not long after this incident, on "60 Minutes", there was a story reporting on an E-Systems employee being wrongly charged in a robbery of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the background of the E-Systems shot sat a 747. It was later reported that several "international versions" of the 747s were fitted with EW, "in case of a national security emergency" where the U.S. Government could possibly make use of the aircraft.
8 posted on 12/05/2003 12:12:31 PM PST by TommyDale
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To: Taylor42
My boss at the time, who did have some decent contacts, always told me that it was shot down to kill McDonald. Supposedly, he had a list of current American Communist members. I would have thought they would have been known anyway, but there was something on that list that someone didn't want revealed. I have no idea whether or not there is any validity to this argument.
9 posted on 12/05/2003 12:16:58 PM PST by twigs
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To: Taylor42
A buddy of mine who is a former Air Force Intel officer once told me that the plane was shot down to kill one of the passengers. When I asked him for details he refused to say anything else.

That sounds intriguing, but I think it's a lot of baloney -- mainly because the odds of this specific passenger being on a flight that just happened to stray into Soviet airspace are very remote. If they really wanted to kill someone, there are about a thousand ways to do it in a less conspicuous manner that wouldn't attract much attention.

10 posted on 12/05/2003 12:23:56 PM PST by Alberta's Child (Alberta -- the TRUE North strong and free.)
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To: struwwelpeter
IIRC initial reports out of Japan said it had landed on Sakhalin but then it changed to shootdown into sea.

struwwelpeter love it .. Little Johnny Headinair etc :)

11 posted on 12/05/2003 12:29:10 PM PST by 1066AD
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To: TommyDale
E-Systems makes other things besides antennas and receivers. The did a lot of electronics on the National Airborne Command Post, and are working on a stratospheric infrared telescope, mounted on a 747 in a configuration reminescent of the RC-135 S "Cobra Ball". Whether this will be pure astronomy or missile defense related is as yet not known.
12 posted on 12/05/2003 12:29:24 PM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: Alberta's Child
I'm only relating the story as he told it. However, I completely trust this individual. He's not the type to make something up to impress people. Actually he's more the mad scientist type, very smart and much too busy to care what people think of him.
13 posted on 12/05/2003 12:29:57 PM PST by Taylor42
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To: Taylor42
Lots of rumors in the service, usually related by well-connected guys. Like the Area 51 and Wright Patterson stories, somebody always "heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy..." ;-)

Know the difference between a war story and a fairy tale? A fairy tale starts: "Once upon a time," and a war story begins with: "Now this ain't no s***!"

I'm waiting for our local "Russians" to show up and blame it all on the US like the libs do. Amazing, they can admit to murdering 8 million Ukrainians, but 269 Koreans and Americans had to be a US op.

14 posted on 12/05/2003 12:42:08 PM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: Taylor42
If you're still in contact with him, you should ask him how this kind of thing could have worked: Did the Soviets track this guy's every move, until the day he just happened to be on a flight that strayed into Soviet airspace? This kind of stray flight doesn't happen very often, so they might have been waiting a very, very long time.

It just sounds to me like something is missing from this story.

15 posted on 12/05/2003 12:43:14 PM PST by Alberta's Child (Alberta -- the TRUE North strong and free.)
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To: struwwelpeter; snopercod; Ragtime Cowgirl
Some enlightenment, here ---

Standard OPS: Shortwave radio checks by commercial aircraft, prior to trans-oceanic flights, are so powerful, that thousands of miles away, you can hear these pre-flight checks of commercial aircraft and sometimes the militaries', while they are still on the ground "over there."

The Korean airliner would not only have been using VHF (in U.S. aircpace, especially), yet it would also have been using shortwave radio on any flight planned over the ocean.

Already in the story above, is mention of the level of interest and observation by the Soviets, that they knew of the approach control radio traffic as the "Cobra Ball" neared a U.S. base on its return trip.

Such information methods are also used by the Soviets and the U.S. to track commercial flights.

That's the plan. That's what we are supposed to be doing.

So that we are not surprised by commando assault from such "allegedly commercial aircraft."

We routinely practiced for this kind of attack --- especially expecting it upon any of our (and NATO and SEATO) military airfields around the globe.

The problem for the Russians was not that they had any doubt about the Korean jetliner's legitimacy. The problem was that their own plans call for such an assault on us, and they could not rid themselves of imagining that their plan was being used against them.

The Russians chose to err on the side of protecting their careers.

16 posted on 12/05/2003 12:45:23 PM PST by First_Salute
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To: struwwelpeter
There's no doubt in my mind that the Korean crew was at fault in this case. I don't know what it is about them, but those KAL crews have a serious problem with this kind of crap.

On September 11th, a KAL flight off the coast of Alaska was nearly shot down by U.S. Air Force jets that were scrambled to track all flights in the air over North America. The KAL crew didn't respond to multiple attempts to make radio and visual contact, but the U.S. pilots, perhaps knowing exactly who they were dealing with, showed considerable restraint.

To protect major Canadian cities from the remote possibility that there was a terrorist angle to the whole thing, the plane was ordered to land in Whitehorse, Yukon -- the most remote airport in the area that could accommodate a 747.

Some of you might remember the famous photos of the 747 on the tarmac at Whitehorse -- the aircraft was larger than the airport's terminal building. The Korean passengers spent three days there, and by the time they left they had pretty much emptied every clothing store in the town.

17 posted on 12/05/2003 12:52:01 PM PST by Alberta's Child (Alberta -- the TRUE North strong and free.)
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To: Alberta's Child
I will ask. However, your statement assumes that the plane was off course one it's own. If my friend's story is true, I would not make that assumption. Maybe someone can tell us how "easy" or "not easy" it would be to influence an INS nav system with false signals.
18 posted on 12/05/2003 12:58:58 PM PST by Taylor42
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To: First_Salute
That's a good catch on your part. Very interesting.

My theory, however, is that they shot it down to avoid embarassment. I hang out with a lot of Slavs, and they can stand cold, bad food, barking dogs, smoke, rickety tables and hard beds. The only thing they cannot stand is shame. To let the aircraft go would have made their armed forces a laughingstock.

Ogarkov and lots of generals were sacked soon after the KAL incident when a German teenager landed a small plane in Moscow. Case in point.

19 posted on 12/05/2003 12:59:14 PM PST by struwwelpeter
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To: Taylor42
Good post, I have wondered what happened. Seems there were enough stupid lefty/commie mistakes and lies to go around on this one. The Soviets were too dangerously stupid to trust and the South Koreans too stupid to fly, it is a sad story. Especially losing the Conservative Georgian Congressman. At least President Reagan found some use for this tragedy, he bludgeoned the Commies with it and made them pay!
20 posted on 12/05/2003 1:07:33 PM PST by iopscusa (El Vaquero)
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