Some past attacks on civilian airliners

By ROBERT H. REID | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2014

Allegations that Malaysian flight MH17, which crashed Thursday near the tense Russian-Ukraine border, was shot down by a ground-to-air missile serves as a grim reminder of risks — rare as they may be — to civilian airliners flying over or near conflict zones.

Here are some examples of previous attacks on civilian aircraft in areas of high tension:

KAL Flight 007

On Sept. 1, 1983, a Soviet SU-15 jet shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007 west of Russia’s Sakhalin island while on a flight from New York to Seoul by way of Anchorage. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed. Moscow acknowledged it shot down the plane but maintained it has strayed into prohibited airspace on a spying mission. The incident sharply increased tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and prompted American officials to change some tracking procedures for civilian aircraft leaving Alaska.

Iran Flight 655

On July 3, 1988 the U.S. Navy’s guided missile cruiser the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air civilian airliner on a flight from the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas to Dubai in the Persian Gulf. All 290 people aboard were killed. The U.S. said the crew mistook the plane for an Iranian fighter jet and believed they were under attack. After eight years of allegations and recriminations, the U.S. and Iran reached an agreement at the International Court of Justice under which Washington agreed to pay millions in compensation, including $61.8 million for the victims’ families.

KAL Flight 902

On April 20, 1978, a Soviet jetfighter opened fire on a Korean Air Lines jet near Murmansk while on a flight from Paris to Seoul, saying the plane had violated Soviet airspace and failed to respond to orders from Soviet ground controllers. Two of the 109 people on board were killed but the pilot managed an emergency landing on a frozen lake near the Finnish border. Investigators determined the plane had veered dangerously off course and Soviet air defense mistook it for a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance jet. The Soviets rescued the survivors and handed them over to U.S. diplomats. The pilots acknowledged they had refused to follow orders from Soviet ground controllers and were pardoned by Soviet authorities.

Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114

Israeli jets shot down a Libyan Boeing 727 on Feb. 21, 1973 after the plane got lost in bad weather over northern Egypt and strayed into Israeli-controlled airspace on a flight from Libya to Cairo. Two Israeli F-4 jets fired on the plane, which crash-landed in the sand dunes. All but 15 of the 113 people aboard were killed. After an investigation, the International Civil Aviation Organization censured the Israelis, who insisted that the crew’s refusal to heed warnings and erratic behavior in the air led them to consider the plane a security threat. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ultimately called the attack an “error in judgment” and Israel paid compensation to the victims.


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