During one exchange, General Kornu-kov expressed frustration with the amountof time Major Osipovich was taking to getinto attack position: “Oh, [obscenities]how long does it take him to get into at-tack position, he is already getting out intoneutral waters. Engage afterburner imme-diately. Bring in the MiG 23 as well....While you are wasting time it will fly rightout [of Soviet airspace].”Major Osipovich reported starkly atone point in the transcript: “The target isdestroyed.”As it happened, however, Osipovich waswrong; the “target” had not been destroyed.Subsequent radio transmissions from KAL007 indicated that while the crew had prob-lems in controlling the altitude of the plane(it had climbed on its own) and that thecabin had depressurized, First Officer Sonhad reported to the plane’s Captain Chun:“Engines normal, sir.” Captain Chun thenturned off the plane’s autopilot and took manual control of the plane, stabilizing itat 35,000 feet, its original altitude. He alsocontacted controllers at Tokyo, requestedthat they “give instructions,” and reportedhe was “descending to one zero thousand[10,000 feet].”According to the transcripts, there wasno further transmission from KAL 007, afactor that has been widely interpreted (ormisinterpreted) to mean that the airlinereither exploded or crashed into the sea atthat point. But the plane was tracked onradar for more than 10 minutes after thelast recorded transcript, and was picked upon radar flying at 16,424 feet four minutesafter the attack. Eight minutes later, radarshowed that the plane was still at 1,000feet, indicating that the rate of descent hadslowed — not what one would expect if the plane had plummeted into the sea asclaimed. The pilot’s request for “instruc-tions” also indicates that he still had con-trol over the aircraft, or else such a requestwould have been pointless.When Soviet General Kornukov was in-formed that the plane had changed courseto the north he was incredulous: “Well, Iunderstand [that the plane turned north],I do not understand the result, why is thetarget flying? Missiles were fired. Why isthe target flying? [obscenities] Well, whatis happening?” Of course, the fact that theplane changed direction suggests not onlythat the pilot was able to steer the aircraftbut that he was going to attempt an emer-gency landing.Kornukov then ordered that a MIG 23be brought in to finish the job. However,due to KAL 007’s descent and heavy cloudcover, they could not locate the plane. TheSoviet interceptors, low on fuel, returnedto their base without having sighted theplane. The Soviets’ radar told them, how-ever, that the plane had descended to16,424 feet and was flying a spiral patternover Moneron Island, in the Tartar Strait24 miles west of Sakhalin Island.Finally, 12 minutes after the attack,KAL 007 disappeared from radar, afterdipping below the 1,000-foot level nearMoneron Island. The Soviets immediate-ly dispatched squadrons of KGB BorderGuard boats, rescue helicopters, and evencivilian trawlers to Moneron Island.In the United States, the news broad-casts the evening of the disappearance of KAL 007 reported that the missing air-craft had landed safely on Sakhalin Island.But by the following morning those initialreports were forgotten, and the news wasthat the plane had been destroyed.
Putting the Pieces Together
For several reasons (not the least of whichwas that he had been invited by Rep. Mc-Donald to travel with him on KAL 007and that he also had that touching en-counter with the two little girls from theplane), Senator Jesse Helms always took a strong interest in the mysterious fate of this airliner. During the two-year periodfollowing the tragedy, Helms proposedeight specific sanctions against the Sovi-ets to punish them for that heinous act,but both Congress and the Reagan WhiteHouse worked to defeat those sanctions. In1991, Senator Helms, as Minority Leaderof the Senate Foreign Relations Commit-tee, issued a report that noted: “KAL 007probably ditched successfully, there mayhave been survivors, the Soviets havebeen lying massively, and diplomatic ef-forts need to be made to return the possiblesurvivors.”On December 10, 1991, just five daysafter Senator Helms had written to Presi-dent Boris Yeltsin of the newly estab-lished Russian Soviet Federated Social-ist Republic concerning the whereaboutsof U.S. servicemen who were POWs orMIAs, he sent a second letter to Yeltsinconcerning KAL 007. Helms wrote: “Oneof the greatest tragedies of the Cold Warwas the shoot-down of the Korean Air-lines flight KAL-007 by the Armed Forc-es of what was then the Soviet Union onSeptember 1, 1983.... The KAL-007 trag-edy was one of the most tense incidencesof the entire Cold War. However, now thatrelations between our two nations haveimproved substantially, I believe that it istime to resolve the mysteries surroundingthis event.”Senator Helms attached a list of questions
THE NEW AMERICAN • SEpTEMbER 1, 2008
shakes hands with Senator Jesse Helms in June 1983, months before thedowning of KAL 007. Reagan condemned the attack, but his actions did not back up his rhetoric.Helms persisted in attempting to find out the truth.
A P I m a g e s