Nothing Changed: Soviet incompetence was always Russian incompetence

It was forty years ago today, September 1, 1983, that the Soviet military shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007, killing 246 passengers and 23 crew members. It took six days for the Soviets to admit they screwed up, that they thought it was a US military spy plane.  There was never any legal accountability, no compensation to the victims’ families, and no bodies were recovered due to scavengers on the seabed.  As if tensions between the US and USSR weren’t high enough in 1983, and this before the next US v USSR story to come….

At the time, the US was flying surveillance missions in the north Pacific, near Japan.  The Soviets were aware and were watching, and tracking on radar any plane that didn’t have a signal they could confirm.  Of course the US planes weren’t going to say, “yoo hoo, here’s who we are and what we’re doing!” but the Soviets weren’t looking out for commercial civilian craft either.

These were the days long before GPS, so KAL 007 was checking its position by beacons on the ground.  This was also an overnight flight, so they were completely dependent on instruments.  September 7th was a New Moon, the sky almost completely dark.

After leaving Alaskan air space, they took what they thought was a more southerly route that would take them safely over Japan.  Instead, they mistook the beacon signals, and they flew over the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island.  Directly over Soviet military installations.

When the Soviets initially intercepted the plane, they attempted communications on military frequencies, assuming it was a US military spy aircraft.  Because civilian and military use different frequencies, the Soviets assumed the KAL pilots were ignoring their instructions. They flew behind KAL 007 (the obvious position for firing missiles), so the KAL crew had no idea they were being followed.

After a long period up and down the chain of command, the order was given to destroy the plane while still in Soviet airspace.  The exploding and burning plane fell into the Sea of Japan, just off the southwest coast of Sakhalin Island. Korean Airlines flight shot down by Soviet Union

CNN, 2013: The downing of Flight 007: 30 years later, a Cold War tragedy still seems surreal 747 Shootdown: The Story Of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 Korean Air Lines flight 007

I wouldn’t say this video is perfect or 100% true, but it sums up events well and presents enough facts accurately to be worth quoting.

While it’s still unconfirmed how Prigozhin’s plane was downed, there’s no argument that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a Russian missile on July 17, 2014, while it was flying over Ukraine.  298 people were murdered in that war crime which happened during Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.

If there are any airplane crashes within Russia over the next year, it will likely be due to poor maintenance and parts being unavailable due to sanctions.  Russia has had to go so far as outsourcing airplane repair to Iran.

Russian Airlines Ask Employees to Report Fewer Aircraft Malfunctions – Proekt

Russia’s flagship airline Aeroflot has asked its employees to refrain from recording equipment defects on aircraft, leading to planes regularly flying with malfunctions, according to the investigative news outlet Proekt, citing current and former employees at the airline. 

A former employee at Aeroflot explained that the policy, in force since last spring, was introduced “to prevent aircraft from being grounded due to a defect, which, according to regulations, prohibits the aircraft from flying until it is fixed.”

A technical specialist at Aeroflot corroborated this information while adding that the same unofficial practice is now followed by other airlines in order to keep aircraft in the sky.

A former pilot at Nordwind Airlines told Proekt about a January incident at the Kazan international airport when fuel started leaking during the start-up of a Boeing 737’s engines. The pilot recalled that technicians were unsurprised by the leak.

“It had happened several times before, but there were no records of it in the technical log book — the airline’s management asked us not to write anything,” the pilot said.

“The Russian attitude of betting on good luck also exists in aviation. Obviously, it’s frightening to fly on hope alone, but unfortunately, that’s what’s happening in many airlines in the country today,” he added.


  1. billseymour says

    Off-topic, but I hope you didn’t get slammed too badly by the typhoon.  The path that I find on the Web looks like the worst of it was south of Taiwan.  Is that right?

    Anyway, best of luck to you.

  2. jrkrideau says

    It was forty years ago today, September 1, 1983, that the Soviet military shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007, killing 246 passengers and 23 crew members.

    It was a little over 35 years ago that the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 65 an Airbus A300, on a regularly scheduled flight from Bander Abbas to Dubai. The captain retired from the US Navy in 1991. He probably was not going to make admiral

    And it was about 21 years ago that a US pilot bomb Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing 4 and wounding 8.

    Both of these affected me a bit. I was flying isto the Vincennes’ patrol area 2 days later in an A300. A friend’s husband lost companions in that bombing.

    Nothing Changed: US incompetence was always US incompetence. They just do it better.