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by Robert W. Lee
EVENTS in Lebanon, Grenada, and elsewhere in recent weeks have di verted national attention from the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight Seven by the Soviets on Sep tember 1st. Yet, most key aspects of the Flight Seven tragedy remain con fused, and many important questions are still unanswered, due in large part to the extensive campaign of disin•
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formation conducted by the Soviets and their sympathizers in our news media and elsewhere to muddy the water with claims that Flight Seven was a spy plane, that the Soviets did not know it was a civilian airliner; and similar diversionary nonsense. Recently we discussed the issue with a number of experts, including three commercial airline pilots. Cap49
tain Joe H. Ferguson is a one-time flight instructor, crop-duster, and Strategic Air Command air-to-air re fueler who, over the past 20 years, has logged approximately 18,000 hours with Frontier Airlines. Captain Jim Foley began his career with Navy flight training and, since 1956, has flown more than 20,000 hours (includ ing a number of years on the Boeing 747) with Pan Am. And, Captain Ted Adams Jr. is another longtime Pan-Am officer who has often flown the 747 on the same Anchorage-to-Seoul route (R-20) traversed by Flight Seven. The discussion and speculation which fol low are largely based on our conversa tions with these experienced flyers, as well as information gleaned from military intelligence authorities and the public press. While the data currently available cannot prove exactly what happened (or why) , evaluation of that data does narrow the odds regarding the probable scenario.
Were There Survivors?
35,000 feet by one or more Soviet rockets at 3:26 a.m. (Japan time). Within four minutes (3:30 a.m.), it had descended to approximately 16,000 feet (an average rate of 4,750 feet per minute) . During the next eight minutes, the plane dropped an other 11,000 feet (an average of 1, 375 feet per minute) . At that point, still 5,000 feet in the air, the giant jet disappeared from radar screens. Pre sumably, although there is no way to know for sure, it would have taken at least another three to five minutes for the plane to reach the sea's sur face. In other words, Flight Seven did not "plummet" out of control as so many reports have implied. Each of our aviation experts agrees this 15-plus minutes of descent time strongly in dicates that the pilot (or co-pilot) was able to exercise substantial control over the crippled 747 following the Soviet attack.
Rate of Descent
One of the most puzzling aspects of the situation has been the near total lack of concern or comment re garding the possibility that there may have been survivors who were captured by the Soviets. Instead, initial Soviet claims that there were no survivors have been swallowed whole. There nonetheless exists a possibility that some passengers on Flight Seven sur vived the crash landing. Consider: Tape recordings and radar trackings confirm that Flight Seven was hit at
The normal rate of descent for a 747 coming in for a regular landing from 35,000 feet is approximately 3,000 feet per minute. However, if the plane is decompressed for any reason, the rate would be jumped to 4,000 to 7,000 feet per minute until the aircraft had reached an altitude of about 15,000 feet (where there would be adequate oxygen and a toler able temperature) . Remember, Flight Seven descended to 16,000 feet at nearly 5,000 feet per minute, but thereafter moderated to an average of less than 1, 500 feet per minute.
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Can such statistics be explained in any way other than that the plane was . still under the control of a skilled pilot headed for a crash landing from which there may have been sur vivors?
The Rocket Attack
The chances for a reasonably suc cessful crash landing would depend, needless to say, on the extent of the damage inflicted by the Soviet rock et(s) . Flight Seven was apparently struck by two missiles. The Soviet SU15 fighter plane, one of which is "credited" with the attack, normally carries both heat-seeking and radar homing rockets (one each) . The debris collected to date includes a · sizable section of vertical stabilizer (tail fin) which bears indications of a powder (rather than fuel) explosion. One military expert with whom we talked speculates that the radar-homing rocket hit the plane's fusilage be neath the tail section, causing a prompt explosive decompression of the plane. The heat-seeking rocket, on the other hand, probably found an outboard engine, since the swept-back configuration of the wing would place the outboard engines first in line for an incoming missile. Let us presume, then, that the tail section was damaged and an outboard engine destroyed. Could control of the plane be maintained? Indeed it could, according to the airline officers we interviewed. Compensation for a damaged rudder assembly on the tail section could be achieved by shuttingThe Review Of The NEWS, December 7, 1 983
down one of the engines on the un affected wing. And, the plane could if necessary be kept aloft with only one working engine. Indeed, even if the target engine Were blown complete ly off the plane, along with the wing tip at that point, fully two-thirds of the wing would remain - more than enough to keep the aircraft under control. And again, regardless of what may actually have happened to Flight Seven, the time of the descent is conclusive evidence that it remained under a substantial degree of pilot control.
The Reasonable Doubt
The speed on impact would depend, in large part, on whether the huge wing flaps were operational. With the flaps down, the plane could be slowed to perhaps 130 knots ( 150 miles per hour), depending on such factors as weight, wind, etc. Without flaps to provide the necessary lift, the landing speed would more likely be around 190 knots (219 m.p.h. ) . Yet, even at that higher speed, there would likely be at least a few survivors. It also seems reasonable to assume that many (perhaps most) of the pas sengers had adequate time during the (relatively) lengthy descent to don the life-jacket flotation devices which are available on all over-water com mercial flights. Such jackets would keep a person afloat, even should he or she lose consciousness or die from exposure after entering the water. Yet, so far as we know, none of the few
bodies recovered to date was wearing a life j acket (inflated or otherwise ) . Such victims may have been blown out of the plane during the explosive decompression rather than killed dur ing the crash landing. The water temperature at the pre sumed crash site was estimated to be around 50 degrees F., which (accord ing to survival manuals) people can stand with little trouble for an hour. Indeed, there is a 50-50 chance of surviv-ing for at least three hours. Since Soviet vessels and aircraft are said to have reached the area of the crash landing within an hour of the attack, the possibility that they found survivors is entirely realistic.
needed to confirm or dispel these and a myriad of similar allegations which now surround the Flight Seven atrocity. After all, by allowing the Soviets to exercise exclusive control of the crash site during those crucial early hours, we gave them the opportunity to con trive whatever scenario might best fit their needs. For all we know they could have captured survivors, re trieved the floating dead, secured the "black box" record of the final 30 minutes of cockpit conversation, and destroyed any sizable remains of the plane which were still afloat.
The Soviets Knew
Flight Seven appears to have been hit only seconds before leaving Soviet air space, but would have crash-landed well beyond, due in part to the proba ble 75 to 90 additional miles it traveled during the descent. Yet, the Soviets refused to allow Japanese or Ameri can , searchers into the area for days. Why did we not demand such access and proceed with rescue and salvage operations regardless of Soviet wishes? We do not know for a certainty, but it has been reported that (1) a U.S. Navy Air-Sea Rescue mission from Honolulu headed for the crash site, but was ordered back to port by the State Department, and (2) Secretary of State George Shultz said off-the record that a search in or near Soviet waters "wasn't worth a war." A con gressional investigation is sorely
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Let us now consider the claim that the Soviets did not know what they were shooting at, suspecting that it was one of our RC-135 surveillance planes rather than a civilian 747 . * The
*It has also been alleged that · the 747 was itself a spy plane equipped with intelli gence-gathering apparatus. This key plank of the Soviet disinformation program dis regards the fact that there is nothing which the giant jet could collect that would not more easily (and with less risk) be gleaned by satellites or aircraft far better qualified for the task. Also, the possibil ity of discovery would be greatly increased by the plane's presence at commercial air ports in New York, Anchorage, and Seoul, where passengers, baggage handlers, food processors, maintenance personnel, and goodness knows who else would be milling around the aircraft. And, perhaps most pertinent of all, there is simply no realistic reason to believe that the Soviets would shoot down such a plane, rather than force it down intact so that photographs of the alleged intelligence equipment could be used as a propaganda gold mine. 53
evidence to the contrary is overwhelm ing. For instance: ( 1 ) At no time (according to trans cripts of the taped conversations of So viet pilots) did the interceptors refer to Flight Seven as anything other than "the target." They raised no questions regarding what they were tracking. (2) The configuration and dimen sions of the 747 and RC-135 differ markedly (the former, for instance, is half-again as large as the latter in most key dimensions) and those dif ferences would be readily recognized by any pilot capable of differenti ating a kangaroo from a panda. Visi bility (contrary to Soviet claims) was good, as indicated by the declaration of one of the Soviet pilots that he had sighted the big jet at a distance of eight miles. And, there was a half moon, which airline captains confirm would provide more than sufficient light to distinguish between the two planes. (3) Whereas the fuselage of the RC-135 contains only two or three win dows on each side, that of the 747 is lined with 88 passenger windows on each side and another 10 such windows high up on the distinctiv.e "bubble" atop the plane. The light emanating from those windows during a night flight (except for the few with shades pulled) would clearly identify the civilian aircraft for what it was. (4) On three separate occasions, the pilot of the attack fighter referred to the 747's flashing strobe light (which is peculiar to a civilian air craft) . And, on one of those occaThe Review Of The NEWS, December 7, 1 983
sions, he also mentioned that the jet liner's navigational lights "are burn ing." (5) Claims that the fighter planes were at all times below Flight Seven, so they could not recognize its charac teristics, are refuted by tape tran scripts in which the attack pilot refers to being to the left of the 747, in front of it, abeam of it - but at no time during the final minutes as being be low it. (6) At one point, the attack pilot radioed: "The target isn't responding to I.F.F." (the Identification Friend or Foe signal) . Only military aircraft - not commercial airliners - can re spond to the LF.F. signal, which is used solely to determine whether a military plane is "friend or foe."* (7) Japanese news agencies reported shortly after the downing that the attack pilot had radioed his ground controller that the "target" he was tracking was a civilian airliner. The conversation, according to the reports, was monitored by Japanese intelli gence sources. The tape of that con*The attack plane was apparently unable .to contact Flight Seven even on the normal channels used by civilian aircraft. A v ia tion Week & Space Technology for Sep tember 12, 1983, quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying that the Soviet fighters sent up to intercept the 747 use "an emer gency guard channel in very high frequen cy that is preset on the ground and cannot be tuned by the pilot once airborne. It is not compatible with 1 2 1 . 5 or 243.0 MHz guard used by commercial and military aircraft of the west. This is to preclude defection by Soviet air crews . " 55
versation is important evidence and should be examined by competent in vestigators. Make no mistake about it: The So viets knew exactly what they were do ing, and to whom.
What About Pilot Error?
Why was Flight Seven off course in the first place, and what motive might have led the Soviets to arrange the shoot down? Pilot error has been forwarded by some as an explanation for the airliner's bizarre course. Such a thesis assumes, however, that Captain Chun Byung In, who last year received a citation for his exemplary safety record and had flown the R-20 route for five years, somehow "goofed" this time while traversing the world's most sensitive and potentially hazard ous commercial air route. Somehow, we are to believe, he misprogrammed the plane's Inertial Navigation System (LN .S.), then failed to notice that the aircraft was moving off course de spite back-up radar apparatus and multiple radio transmitters. And, we are to believe further that other members of the crew were equally lax in paying professional attention to their duties. Such massive breakdown in performance even after years of flawless flying over that same route is not impossible, of course, but the odds against it are truly astronomical. As one airline captain put it: "It shatters me to realize how vague the average person's view is of what takes place on a flight deck . . . . What you're saying is: A patient in a hospital
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dies on the operating table, and you're going to investigate his death, and you start with the assumption that the surgeon made the initial incisions, and then walked out of the room and went downtown to watch a movie or some thing. You're talking about something so out of character with the profes sional requirements of the job that you're just in outer space. "
Was I t Sabotage?
If not pilot error, could the naviga tion system have been sabotaged by the willful insertion of incorrect data into the LN.S. computers at the start, or the fouling-up of that system and other navigational aides during the flight by disruptive Soviet radio transmissions? Again, not impossible, but very unlikely. For one thing, as we shall see, the Soviets could have used other ways to accomplish the goal which were far more likely to succeed and less likely to be exposed either before or after the fact. And, while our space does not permit a description of how the nav igation apparatus on a 747 operates, suffice it to say that the probability of messing-up the LN.S. system, the plane's radar, and its radio transmis sion apparatus, to the point where the plane would wander off course for hour after hour and for hundreds of miles without a crew member noticing the problem is roughly equivalent to the probability that David Rockefel ler will drop his membership in the Council on Foreign Relations and join The John Birch Society. 57
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The Skyjacker Entry
What, then, is the most likely sce nario? Here is our entry in the contest, based on the information available to date: Suppose you are Yuri Andropov (or someone else within the Soviet hierar chy with authority to instigate and implement such a plot) and you learn that a United States Congressman who has been a thorn in your side for many years, and whose potential to do you further harm is seriously escalating, will be traveling to Seoul to participate in ceremonies related to the. 30th an niversary of the signing of the U.S. Korea Defense Treaty. Since Larry McDonald's travel itinerary will un doubtedly include the Anchorage-to Seoul flight, you readily recognize the opportunity for fabricating an inci dent which can serve as a cover for his assassination, but which can then be propagandized as simply an unfortu nate, but understandable, tragedy in which The John Birch Society Chair man just happened to be one among hundreds of innocent victims who perished on a plane which intruded into Soviet military territory. The mechanics are relatively sim ple: arrange to have the plane on which Congressman McDonald is a passenger diverted over one of the military in stallations near the Anchorage-to Seoul corridor. For that purpose you select the pro cedure which has the greatest poten tial for success, the 'least chance of exposure, and a ready-made cover story (in case of failure) which would
absolve the Soviet Government of complicity. In short, you assign one of your trained agents to "skyjack" the plane. He need know no more details of your plan than the specifics of his own assignment. Indeed, he can be told that the plane will merely be forced down, not shot down, after which he will be appropriately rewarded. Neither would it be necessary for the military personnel involved to know details of the plot, since their normal reaction to an intruding air craft would be entirely sufficient. And, should the worst happen and your agent be overpowered or other wise neutralized in a failed mission, he can be pre-instructed to play the role of a typical, run-of-the- mill "skyjacker" with no motive other than that of traveling to a particular country.
Following Flight Seven
With our scenario established, let us follow Flight Seven: The trip from New York to An chorage is uneventful, as is the early stage of the final leg. The airliner is, for example, on course some 2,000 miles out of Anchorage as it reaches the area of Shemya Island, where Captain Chun double-checks (as all pilots routinely do) the plane's naviga tion system with the powerful naval radio station (and its Distance Mea suring Equipment) on Shemya. It will be the last opportunity until reaching Japan to double-check the I . N . S . system. No problems so far, but shortly the plane begins moving off course in a
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direction which will take it over the tip ter a civilian plane has been inter of Kamchatka Peninsula and the So cepted by a military plane over un viet missile, naval, and submarine friendly territory is for the airliner to base at Petropavlovsk. Our hypotheti rock its wings, and flash its naviga cal "skyjacker" has made his move, tional lights, or both, after which the which explains not only the direction interceptor moves ahead to guide the of the plane, but why the pilot subse intruder to a landing. With this in quently transmitted radio reports mind, it is of interest to note that claiming to be on course, when in fact there were a number of early reports he was many hundreds of miles off indicating that the pilot of Flight his course. Under duress, he could be Seven did indeed acknowledge the in compelled to give (and would not resist terceptor by tipping its wings as a sign giving) inaccurate reports with mini of willingness to comply with orders. mal telltale emotion. (Conceivably, Assuming that is true, the attack pi the "skyjacker" himself transmitted lot's taped conversations take on a new the phony data.) meaning. At 3:21 :55, for instance, the Red It is possible the Soviet hierarchy intended to have Flight Seven downed pilot asks: "What are instructions?" near Kamchatka, but the Soviet Presumably, he had not yet been told fighters sent up to track the 747 could for sure what to do about the airliner . not find it at first. By the time they . Assuming that Flight Seven had did it was too late, as the airliner was rocked its wings, the pilot's next trans beyond the Peninsula and over the Sea mission indicates that he may have of Okhotsk in international waters. been instructed by ground control to The interceptors from Kamchatka, force the airliner to land: "I am going which were now running low on fuel, around it. I'm already moving in front returned to their base and the assign of the target." Then, at 3:22:42, the ment was transferred to their col attack pilot suddenly asserts in ap leagues on Sakhalin Island, some 600 parent response to an additional order miles away, where there are seven So from the ground: "It should have viet Navy bases, two major air bases, been earlier. How can I chase it? I'm already abeam of the target. " What and two motorized rifle divisions. should have "been earlier"? Possibly the command to shoot down the air Over Sakhalin Four Soviet fighters (three SU-15s liner, which was now (at maximum) and a MiG-23) are "scrambled" to only a few minutes from leaving So track Flight Seven. At 3:05:56, the viet air space? pilot of the attack plane declares: "I At 3:22:55, the pilot declares : "Now see it. " I have to fall back a bit from the W e pause here to note that the target ." That makes sense, since to accepted international procedure af- fire on "the target" from close range
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could result in a face full of shrap nel . At 3:23:37: "I'm dropping back. Now I will try rockets." And, at 3:26:20: "I have executed launch." Other interpretations of the quoted segments of the transcripts are possi ble, but it appears to this reporter that Flight Seven may well have acknowl edged the interceptor in the accepted manner, the interceptor prepared to lead it to a forced (but safe) landing, but at the last possible minute before the airliner departed Soviet territory someone with authority ordered the ground controller to issue the destruct order. It is a possibility which merits close congressional scrutiny.
Why Over Water?
Having missed the first opportuni ty over Kamchatka, where instru ments in a crashed spy plane might be salvaged, why did the Soviets wait until that last minute over Sakhalin to make their move? Apparently it was to assure that Flight Seven would go down in water, rather than on land, since a far more credible coverup could be effe cted with a crash in water than would be the case on land. There would be no need accurately to account for either survivors or bodies. The vital "black box," containing the final 30 minutes of cockpit conversa tion, could be conveniently (and credi bly) "lost" in water, but not on land. All told, there would simply be fewer questions asked, and fewer in vestigations demanded, with the Sea of Japan as Flight Seven's final resting place. The U.S.S.R. could then count
on the short memory of its adversaries (and especially of the American peo ple) soon to neutralize any emotional outrage generated by the incident as other events supplant concern over the downing of Flight Seven. Things would be back to normal in no time. Larry McDonald and his potential for aggressive and effective leadership of the anti-Communist movement would be gone, the victim of yet an other successful Soviet liquidation effort. And, the perpetrators would emerge from the affair with hardly a scratch due, primarily, to the entire ly predictable refusal of the Ameri can Government to take any meaning ful action to punish the Soviets. In deed, the Kremlin might actually gain a point or two by demonstrating to the rest of the world what it can now do with arrogance and impunity. OKAY. So did it actually happen this way, or will some other scenario prove more plausible as additional informa tion becomes available? The question is: From where will such information come? What is needed is a full-scale and thorough congressional investiga tion of this monstrous tragedy. In our opinion the assignment should be giv en to the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism and Internal Security, which is chaired by Senator Jeremiah Den ton. Its first concern should be the matter of possible survivors. Ameri cans anxious to uncover the truth about Flight Seven must urge their Senators and Representative to sup port such an investigation . • •
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