39 Years ago today: On 1 September 1983 a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 was shot down near Sakhalin, Russia, killing 269 people.

Date:Thursday 1 September 1983
Type:Silhouette image of generic B742 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Boeing 747-230B
Operator:Korean Air Lines – KAL
First flight:1972-03-17 (11 years 6 months)
Engines:Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A
Crew:Fatalities: 23 / Occupants: 23
Passengers:Fatalities: 246 / Occupants: 246
Total:Fatalities: 269 / Occupants: 269
Aircraft damage:Destroyed
Aircraft fate:Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:37 km (23.1 mls) W off Sakhalinsk [Okhotsk Sea] (https://cdn.aviation-safety.net/database/country/flags_15/pac.gif   Pacific Ocean)
Phase:En route (ENR)
Nature:International Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport:Anchorage International Airport, AK (ANC/PANC), United States of America
Destination airport:Seoul-Gimpo (Kimpo) International Airport (SEL/RKSS), South Korea

Korean Air Lines flight 007 was a scheduled passenger flight from New York-JFK Airport, USA, to Seoul, South Korea with an en route stop at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.
The aircraft, a Boeing 747-230B, arrived at Anchorage at 11:30 UTC (03:30 hours local time) after an uneventful flight.
A crew change took place and the flight was prepared for the final leg to Seoul. The flight was to depart on the Standard Instrument Departure (SID) No. 8 and to proceed to Bethel VORTAC on ATS route J501. The flight was then to proceed on ATS route R20 in the North Pacific (NOPAC) composite route system to reporting point NIPPI where the flight would enter Tokyo Oceanic FIR and later enter the Taegu FIR for landing at Seoul. Route R20 was adjacent to Soviet airspace along the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands. En route altitude was FL310 with planned changes en route to FL330 after NUKKS and to FL350 after NIPPI.

At 12:58 UTC KE007 was cleared for take-off from runway 32 and was airborne at 13:00. Radar contact was established shortly after take-off and KE007 was cleared to proceed direct to the Bethel VORTAC when able. KE007 turned to a magnetic heading of about 245° which it reached three minutes after lift-off.
The Kenai air route surveillance radar showed that the aircraft deviated from its track to BETHEL about ten minutes after departure and that the aircraft was about 6 NM north of J501 when radar service was terminated. The aircraft reported passing BETHEL at 13:49 hours and estimated NABIE at 14:30. The aircraft was about 12 NM north of track when the crew reported BETHEL.
After Bethel the flight was supposed to begin following route R20 on a magnetic heading of 238°. However, The flight proceeded on a magnetic heading of 245° without changing course.
This deviation resulted in a progressively greater lateral displacement to the right of its planned route which, ultimately, resulted in its penetration of adjacent high seas airspace in flight information regions (FIRs) operated by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), as well as of sovereign USSR airspace overlying Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island and their surrounding territorial waters.

First intercept attempt
While KE007 was approaching the Kamchatka peninsula, a US Air Force Boeing RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft was orbiting the area east off Kamchatka. Soviet Air Defence command assumed that KE007 was an RC-135 as well. At least four interceptor aircraft were scrambled from airfields in Kamchatka and vectored to the west to intercept the intruder. The fighters were unable to make an interception and at 17:06 UTC were forced to return to base. Radar contact with the intruder was lost by radars on Kamchatka at 17:28 UTC.
The Soviet Air Defence forces on Sakhalin Island were fully alerted by 17:36 hours and radar contact was established by Sakhalin based radars and from 17:45. At 17:52 the steady track of the contact raised doubts and the command centres questioned as to whether it could be a Soviet aircraft.
Two Sukhoi Su-15 fighter aircraft were scrambled from the airbase at Sokol: 805 at 17:42 hours and 121 at 17:54 hours. More interceptors were brought to readiness for immediate take-off at various airbases.

Second intercept
At 17:53 hours an order was given to the ground control that the contact was a combat target, which was to be destroyed if it violated the State border. At 17:58 hours interceptor 805 was ordered to follow and identify the target which by that time was about to enter the Bay of Terpenie. At the same time conflicting instructions were given to 805 to hold a position suitable for an immediate attack. 805 and 163 were at altitude and following the contact from 18:00 and 18:08 hours, respectively. Controllers were ordered not to close the interceptors directly astern of the target because of a possible cannon carried in the tail. At 18:08 hours the pilot of 805 reported that he could see the target, at a distance of 4.5 to 5 km, but because of darkness he could not identify the aircraft type. It was suggested that if there were four contrails then it would be an RC-135. At 18:09 hours an order was given to the controller to destroy the target. However, the order was immediately changed to require him to wait until the State border had been violated, because concerns had been expressed about taking action over the high seas.
Shortly after 18:12 hours the intruder was interrogated by 805 using the Soviet electronic identification system, but there was no response. At 18:15 hours limitations in radar coverage necessitated the handover of control of the interceptors from one ground control station to another. By 18:16 hours the intruder had re-entered Soviet sovereign airspace and was about to cross the southern end of Sakhalin Island. An officer of the Soviet Air Defence command mentioned at 18:17 hours that the unidentified aircraft might be a passenger aircraft. There was then confusion over whether the intruder aircraft displayed lights. Subsequently the task to destroy the aircraft was confirmed with the comment, “If there are no lights it cannot be a passenger [aircraft].”
airspace as well as its identity.
Unaware of their actual position and the scrambled fighters, the flight crew of KE007 was engaged in casual conversation on the flight deck and in light-hearted exchanges with the flight crew of another flight to Seoul (KE015), before discussing, with the flight crew of KE015, the question of their arrival times in Seoul, the different headwinds being experienced and a change in flight levels. At about 18:15 hours both aircraft were also in contact with Tokyo Radio.
At 18:18 hours the pilot of 805 reported, in response to questions from his ground control, that the target’s navigation lights and flashing beacon were on. At 18:19 hours the Soviet ground control instructed the pilot of 805 to flash his lights as a warning signal and to force the intruder to land at Sokol. At 18:20 hours he was instructed to fire a warning burst from his cannon. He reported at 18:19 hours having flashed his lights and at 18:21 hours having fired a burst from the cannon. On board KE007 there was no indication that the flight crew was aware in any respect of the interception in progress. Shortly after 18:20 hours KE007 commenced the planned climb from FL330 to FL350 which it reached at 18:23 hours. The pilot of 805 reported that this climb by the target resulted in his aircraft forging ahead into a position where engagement was not possible.
At 18:22 hours the Soviet command again ordered the destruction of the target. The time factor became a paramount consideration in the command centres, as the intruder aircraft was about to coast out from Sakhalin Island. Consequently, exhaustive efforts to identify the intruder aircraft were not made, although apparently some doubt remained regarding its identity. The pilot of 805 was instructed to destroy the target with cannon fire but he reported falling back to try with missiles. Two air-to-air missiles were launched by 805 at about 18:25 hours.
The aircraft was struck by one or both missiles, resulting in holes in the fuselage with a total area in the order of 1.75 sq.ft (0.16 m2). As a result of the damage caused by the missile the aircraft initially pitched up and the vertical acceleration increased to approximately 1.2 g over three to five seconds. During this period, the aircraft rolled very slightly right wing down.
Eleven seconds after the hit, the sound of the cabin altitude warning was heard in the cockpit. As a result of the likely failure of hydraulic systems no.1, 2 and 3, the aircraft became difficult to control. The aircraft continued to climb and reached a maximum altitude of 38250 ft with a reduction in calibrated airspeed from the initial 286 kt to 220 kt. After the aircraft started to descend and at the time of temporary recovery to about level flight, it likely stalled.
The aircraft spiralled to the left and the last plotted radar position was at 18:35 UTC (03:35 local time) at 5000 metres. The aircraft subsequently impacted the sea, killing all aboard.

The flight recorders, fragmentary pieces of the aircraft and a small number of items of personal property were salvaged by divers from the USSR during a two month period following the accident.
The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and the digital flight data recorder (DFDR) tapes were recovered by the USSR in 1983 and were handed over to ICAO in January 1993.

Probable Cause:
1. The flight crew was properly certificated and qualified for the flight.
2. The flight crew were physically fit but extended time zone crossings and the level of utilization of crew flight and duty times had the potential for one or more of the flight crew to experience fatigue and a reduction of situational awareness.
3. The aircraft was properly certificated and had been maintained in accordance with approved procedures. The aircraft was serviceable when dispatched from Anchorage.
4. There was no indication of an in-flight failure of the navigation systems, the weather radar, the instrumentation or other equipment of the aircraft.
5. The adjustment of the departure time for the flight was in accordance with Korean Air Lines’ standard practice.
6. The actual time of departure of KE 007 would have resulted in an on-time arrival in Seoul.
7. KE 007 turned to a magnetic heading of about 245° which it reached three minutes after lift-off and then maintained until the attack.
8. KE 007 passed approximately 6 NM north of Cairn Mountain NDB and 12 NM north of Bethel VORTAC.
9. The maintenance of a constant magnetic heading and the resulting track deviation was due to the crew’s failure to note that the autopilot had either been left in heading mode or had been switched to INS when the aircraft was beyond the range (7.5 NM) for the INS to capture the desired track.
10. The maintenance of a constant magnetic heading was not due to any aircraft system malfunction.
11. The autopilot was not controlled by an INS.
12. Manual control of the autopilot was not exercised by the crew by the use of heading selection.
13. The flight crew’s failure to detect that the navigation systems had not been selected correctly to maintain the desired track may have been contributed to by inadequate displays of the operative modes selected.
14. The flight crew did not implement the proper navigation procedures to ensure the aircraft remained on its assigned track throughout the flight.
15. The failure to detect the aircraft’s deviation from its assigned track for over five hours indicated a lack of situational awareness and flight deck co-ordination on the part of the crew.
16. Korean Air Lines training procedures on the use of INS were adequate.
17. The flight crew had the necessary training and experience in long-range navigation procedures.
18. The deviation from its assigned track resulted in KE 007 penetrating USSR sovereign airspace over Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island and the surrounding territorial waters.
19. According to the representatives of the United States, the military radar installations in Alaska were not aware in real time that the aircraft was proceeding west with an increasing northerly deviation from the recognized airways system.
20. KE 007 proceeded westbound out of the Alaskan ADIZ, through the Alaskan DEWIZ and the Alaskan Air Command buffer zone well north of R20. According to the representatives of the United States, no radar observations were made of a westbound aircraft north of R20 and crossing the Alaskan identification zones.
21. There were no indications that the crew of KE 007 deliberately maintained a constant magnetic heading.
22. There was a normal, relaxed atmosphere on the flight deck of KE 007.
23. The proximity of an RC-135 (a United States intelligence aircraft) and KE 007 northeast of Kamchatka Peninsula resulted in confusion and the assumption by the USSR air defence that the aircraft proceeding towards the USSR was an RC-135.
24. USSR military aircraft attempted to intercept KE 007 over Kamchatka Peninsula.
25. Information was freely available to flight crews that an aircraft penetrating prohibited areas of USSR sovereign airspace over Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island might be fired upon without warning.
26. The USSR air defence command centre personnel on Sakhalin Island were concerned with the position of the intruder aircraft in relation to USSR sovereign airspace as well as its identity.
27. The time factor became paramount in the USSR air defence command centres as the intruder aircraft was about to coast out from Sakhalin Island.
28. Exhaustive efforts to identify the intruder aircraft were not made, although apparently some doubt remained regarding its identity.
29. USSR military aircraft intercepted KE 007 over Sakhalin Island.
30. It was not possible to assess the distance of the interceptor aircraft from the intruder nor their relative positions when the interceptor’s lights were flashed and the cannon fired.
31. The USSR military aircraft did not comply with the ICAO standards and recommended practices for interception of civil aircraft before attacking KE 007.
32. The USSR air defence command assumed that KE 007 was a United States RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft before they ordered its destruction.
33. The military radar installations of the Japanese Defence Agency were aware that an aircraft was tracking into USSR airspace over Sakhalin Island. According to the representatives of Japan, they were not aware that it was a civil aircraft off its intended track.
34. According to the representatives of Japan KE 007 was squawking SSR code 1300 when observed by the Japanese military radar installations.
35. It was common practice among flight crews to squawk a non-discrete SSR code ending with zero zero before selecting code 2000 for entry into Tokyo radar controlled airspace in the vicinity of NOHO.
36. The flight crew of KE 007 was not aware of the presence of the USSR interceptor aircraft before or at the time of the attack.
37. KE 007 was hit by at least one of two air-to-air missiles fired from a USSR SU-15 interceptor aircraft.
38. As a result of the attack there was substantial damage to KE 007 which affected the controllability of the aircraft and caused a loss of cabin pressure. The flight crew of KE 007 retained limited control of the aircraft and responded correctly to the loss of cabin pressure.
39. It was not possible to determine the position of KE 007 at the time of the missile attack in relation to USSR sovereign airspace.
40. The flight recorders simultaneously ceased operation 1 minute 44 seconds after the missile impact.
41. The aircraft descended in a spiral and radar contact was lost at 5 000 metres at 18:35 hours. It could not be established whether the crew was able to maintain limited control.
42. The aircraft was destroyed on impact with the sea. The impact was not survivable.
43. During the interception USSR rescue services were alerted and following the destruction of KE 007 they were directed to the area.
44. The Tokyo ACC and RCC took the appropriate steps to alert the emergency services when the aircraft became overdue.