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That article, as the headline made clear, discussed a very painful subject, which had been hushed up for so many years. Two hundred and sixty nine people (among them an American congressman) died on the night of 1 Sept 1983, when a South Korean Airlines, passenger aircraft, flight KAL-007 from New York via Anchorage to Seoul, strayed off course into Soviet airspace. The tragedy occurred off the southern tip of Sakhalin Island, where the giant "Jumbo" was attacked by our interceptors and brought down by missiles.
In response to this story, I received many calls from colleagues as well as direct and indirect participants in that long ago affair. The article, with contributions from Izvestia's New York reporter Aleksandr Shalnev, also caused a reaction beyond our borders. The most important newspapers, magazines and radio and television cooperatives in the USA, Japan, South Korea, France and Canada responded to this story, some mentioning Izvestia, some not. In addition, they began giving their own versions.
Radio France International: "The Soviet Newspaper Izvestia has information about the location of the South Korean passenger Boeing-747, which was shot down in 1983 by a Soviet military pilot. In their story, the newspaper quoted a certain highly placed anonymous Soviet official, who stated that Soviet Navy aqualung divers(?! - Author) discovered the wreckage of the South Korean aircraft, which was shot down over the Sea of Japan 1 September 1983. The newspaper reported that the aircraft wreckage was found in the Sea of Japan at a depth of several dozen meters off the island of Moneron (near Sakhalin). The destruction of the South Korean aircraft in 1983 drew a harsh condemnation from the international community... As for their part, the Soviet authorities declared that the Boeing-747 was carrying out a spy mission. Several weeks after this tragedy, the USSR gave American and South Korean authorities some remains that had been found floating on the surface of the water, but the Soviet officials did not report that parts of the aircraft itself had been found. In this respect, the Izvestia story seems extremely important, since the location of the fuselage, the electronic navigational instruments and the "black box" with all the information on how the flight was proceeding will finally help shed some light on all the details and circumstances of this air tragedy."
New York Times (excerpt): The article, which appeared in Izvestia, contains the first public indication since the incident, that the location of the wreckage of the Boeing is known. The article appeared approximately one week after the Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze expressed his apologies for what happened to his South Korean colleague.
The concern, expressed by the relatives of the victims in connection with the lack of information, is caused not only by the refusal of the Soviet Union to issue an official statement about finding the wreckage, but also by not knowing whether of not the American authorities are covering something up. Most of all, they want to know, how was it possible that the aircraft's deviation from course in the direction of Soviet airspace was not noticed by American radar operators, operators who could have notified the crew?... An aide to Senator Kennedy, referring to this article, noted, "If it is true, that the wreckage has been found, then this is startling news. If it is true (that the wreckage has been found. author), then there is no reason why the Soviet Union should not immediately agree to the senators' request (four American senators, including Kennedy, sent a letter to President Gorbachev with a request to clear up the mystery surrounding the tragedy. author) and present the full results of the Soviet investigation."
"I am more hopeful now, that the truth will become known", said the Chairman of the American Association of Families of the Victims of KAL-007, whose daughter was one of those victims.
Perhaps the biggest stir was created by the influential American publication, U.S. News and World Report. We will also print some excerpts from it:
Having undertaken potentially the most explosive journalistic investigation ever conducted by a Soviet newspaper, Izvestia plans to publish new details concerning the destruction of the South Korean aircraft by the Soviet Military in 1983. According to an American, who speaks Russian and who just recently returned from the Soviet Union, the articles are based on a series of interviews with witnesses and knowledgeable government officials, who are now ready to tell the truth. He said that contrary to official denials, the airliner crashed into the sea near the island of Moneron and was essentially intact at a depth of approximately 100 feet (This does not correspond to the facts. author). In order to keep all this a secret, Moscow ordered that the bodies of the 269 dead be destroyed in local crematoriums. (???--author)."
Furthermore, the article says, that contrary to the assertions of propagandists in the Soviet Ministry of defense, the electronic equipment on board the aircraft showed, that the aircraft was not conducting a spy mission and that the Korean crew did in fact stray off course during the 6875 mile flight. The report of the official investigation was shelved. The American source maintains that the Ministry of Defense applied pressure to try to forestall publication of this material and forbid its officials to talk with reporters from Izvestia. The newspaper still intends to publish all its material, unless the Kremlin decides that it exceeds the limits of glastnost."
"...First of all after reading my colleagues' reports, it is clear that Izvestia has opened an old but still painful subject. And, it is still being used for selfish political purposes by various forces, which is a very important point. By the way, attempts are already being made (at home!) to imply, that by investigating this tragedy, we want to "drive a wedge between the army and the people, to discredit the army not only in the eyes of its own people, but also in the eyes of the world community, we want to interfere in the international activities of the USSR" etc. Our purpose was none of these. In undertaking this investigation, we were thinking of only, in our opinion, the most important thing - the people, who died. Justice must be done in respect to them.
For this reason, I feel obligated to refute one of my American colleagues. I don't want to skip ahead of the story in order to criticize my colleagues, catch them in minor or major discrepancies or just lies. But I am can't let this pass. There is not even a hint of truth in such a blasphemy as the secret cremation of the bodies in non existent crematoriums. We must remember, that we are talking about the deaths of 269 people - and about the living, the relatives and close friends, who are still tortured by that long ago tragedy.
As for the difficulties, which the reporter encountered, while working on this subject, I am sure that everyone understands that much of the material on this subject is impossible to get from authoritative sources or is still stamped secret. I am convinced that no one reporter in any one country (be it the USSR, South Korea, or the USA) can possibly completely solve the mystery of the tragedy of the Korean Boeing. I am certain because I have been engaged in the search for materials, documents and witnesses for a long time, practically from the moment of the incident. In those days, of course, journalistic investigation was to put it mildly not encouraged, and we were forced to operate clandestinely. Nowadays, people have become more open, more ready to speak, and, therefore, it has become easier to get documented statements. But there are still a lot of questions which remain unanswered.
Apparently, only the joint efforts of journalists from various countries can bring this story to a proper end. But it is far more important that all the official files of the investigations of these events be published!
...So what can Izvestia contribute? What new facts and documents have we been able to get. This is what this series of reports is all about.
Let us start by recalling when we first heard about the Boeing intruder.
TASS report (published in all Soviet newspapers 2 September 1983:
On the night of 31 August - 1 September, an aircraft of undetermined nationality overflew the Kamchatka peninsula from the direction of the Pacific Ocean; then, it violated USSR airspace again over Sakhalin Island. The aircraft was flying without any navigational lights, did not answer our queries, and did not respond to air traffic control.
Air Defense fighters, which intercepted the trespasser, tried to lead it to the nearest airfield. However the aircraft did not respond to the fighters' signals and warnings and continued flying toward the Sea of Japan.
And that was all. No shots, no bodies... No one even knew what country the aircraft came from. From vague hints, denials and statements, TASS gave the impression that they were of course talking about a spy plane...
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