The Downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 902

On April 20th, 1978, Korean Air Lines Flight 902 (KAL 902) was shot down by the Soviet air defence near Murmansk, Soviet Union, after Flight 902 violated Soviet airspace and failed to respond to Soviet ground control and interceptors.

Captain Alexander Bosov, pilot of the intercepting Soviet Sukhoi Su-15, incorrectly identified the plane as a United States Air Force reconnaissance RC-135. When reporting back to Tsarkov, Bosov said he could see a maple leaf on the plane's tail, implying that it belonged to NATO. After a few moments, he corrected himself, stating that he could see Chinese characters and the "maple leaf" was actually a red stork with wings spread.

According to flight captain Kim Chang Ky account of the attack, the interceptor approached his aircraft from the right side rather than the left as required by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulation. Kim decreased his speed and turned on the navigation lights, indicating that he was ready to follow the Soviet fighter for landing.

According to Soviet reports, the intruder repeatedly ignored commands to follow the interceptor, and Flight 902 began drifting toward Finland. However, tapes released by Rovaniemi Area Control Centre show that Kim transmitted a call signal three times immediately prior to being shot down and attempted to communicate with the intercepting pilot.

Bosov tried to convince his superiors that the plane was not a military threat, but after receiving orders to shoot it down he fired two R-60 missiles. The first missile was a miss. The second hit the left wing, tearing off approximately four meters of its length. The missile detonation caused shrapnel to puncture the fuselage, causing rapid decompression and jamming one of the plane's four turbines.

After being hit, the airliner initiated an emergency descent from an altitude of 30,000 ft. The Soviets mistook the part of the wing that had blown off Flight 902 for a winged missile and dispatched another Su-15 interceptor to fire at it. For the next 40 minutes, Flight 902 flew across the entire Kola Peninsula at a low altitude, while desparatly searching for a place to land. Thankfully the low altitude also caused Flight 902 to disappear from Russian radar. After several unsuccessful attempts at landing, Kim managed to bring the plane down on the ice of the frozen Korpiyarvi lake in Karelian ASSR, located approximately 87 miles from the Finnish border.

Soviet helicopters rescued all 107 passengers and transported them to the city of Kem in Karelia. After two days at the Murmansk Airport, the passengers were released to the U.S. Consulate in Leningrad.

The crew was held for investigation and released after making a formal apology. The Korean pilots were forced to acknowledge that they deliberately failed to obey the commands of Soviet interceptors. They petitioned the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR for pardon.

As a final insult to injury, the Soviet Union invoiced South Korea $100,000 for care taking expenses.


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