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"...continued flying toward the Sea of Japan." was how the first report about the tragic incident ended.
Soon an interview with the Chief of Staff, Air Defense Forces, General Colonel S. Romanov appeared in the newspapers. At last we heard from the mouth of an official source the words "passenger aircraft", its nationality - a Korean airline, the type of aircraft - a Boeing-747.
The fog was not dispersed. To be honest, it only thickened. For example, the General Colonel stated, "The crew of the intruder was flying in violation of ICAO rules, with no air navigation lights or collision warning lights. It did not respond to our fighter interceptors, which over an extended period made repeated attempts to lead the intruder to the nearest airfield."
He was asked the following question, "How did the Soviet fighter interceptor carry out these attempts?" "He carried out the whole series of air and radio conventions, approved by the Council of the ICAO", explained the General, "by which an interceptor informs the crew of the intercepted aircraft, that he has violated the air space of another government and has strayed off course. This means first of all establishing radio communications with the intruder on the well known international emergency frequency 121.5 Mhz, and by repeating the call on another emergency frequency (Let's remember this 'fact'. - author). Yet, the Soviet pilot, in spite of all his efforts, was unable to establish communications with the intruder. The crew of the intruder would not answer..."
Unfortunately, the first official document, "Statement of the Soviet Government", was based on those very statements.
He went on to report, "...Our fighter pilot fired warning shots using tracer shells along the course of the intruder in order to attract the attention of the intruder and point out the serious violation of another government's airspace."
This important military chief further stated, that the Soviet pilot was not able to tell that the aircraft in front of him was a passenger aircraft, because "the aircraft was flying without lights", and that its outline was very similar to an American spy plane, the RC-135.
I deliberately selected these few quotes. Not only because after a few days, they became essential to the justification for destroying the giant passenger aircraft, but as there is also a firm response to them today. And the one who is giving (these answers) is the person who pushed the button and launched the missile, after which the Boeing-747 truly headed toward the Sea of Japan.
While the diplomatic and newspaper war was raging between the USSR and the USA (in those years we did not have any official contact with South Korea), Izvestia's reporter, Boris Reznik made a wild effort to find out what actually did take place. He woke up the newspaper's chief editor, Lev Nikolaevich Tolkunov, one night and convinced him, as an important person, to get a press pass to Kamchatka from the military. Why Kamchatka, why Petropavlovsk? Because that was where the trail began, where the first Soviet pilot tried to track the Korean Airliner's flight into our air space. Permission was granted. He even prepared material for publication in Izvestia. And, as was common in those years, this material was submitted for review by the leaders of the country's military forces. Here is the "review", which the editorial staff received:
"To the Chief Editor of Izvestia, Comrade Tolkunov, L. N.
Dear Lev Nikolaevich:
The material you have submitted corresponds to the spirit of the Soviet government's statement and is of significant interest to Soviet and foreign readers. However, it would be better to leave out the name of the military pilot and to publish this material in the form of an article (not a report). B. Reznik's article can be published if these remarks (see the text) are taken into consideration.
N. Ogarkov, 11 September 1983"
What exactly had the Marshall corrected in the article by our special reporter and why was it necessary to remove the name? After all, in those years the reporters themselves were excellent censors of their own material. In this overall harmless text, which supported the official version (otherwise you couldn't even think about publication) the journalist has put the name Kazmin, the military pilot, who had taken off from Kamchatka to intercept the Boeing-747.
Remember, the aircraft was shot down over Sakhalin. But it was first noted over Kamchatka. This distance, as you know, is extremely far.
According to the official version, some time after entering Soviet air space over the beach of Kamchatka, our interceptor was accompanying it. Later the Boeing, like a small toy, was lost. In fact, the KAL-007 was first picked up by Oleg Pakhomov"s crew at an Air Defense radar station. It was on his command that the fighter pilot, Maj. Vasilij Kazmin, took off from an Air Defense airfield on Kamchatka. He overtook the "Boeing" and escorted it to the so called "line of no return."
What exactly is this "line of no return?"
As I was told by experts(pilots) - and their facts have been confirmed by other evidence, which the newspaper has, - this "line" was introduced after the defection to Japan by the Soviet military pilot Belenko in a super high tech(in those years) MiG-25. It cost the taxpayers of our country millions (or billions) to make changes in the special military equipment on the aircraft after the treachery of Belenko. There was still another consequence of that impetuous flight (in those years, they used to joke about flying to Japan in a Mig(1)). They stopped trusting all (in any case, in the Far East) pilots; and units began refueling aircraft with just enough fuel, so that a Soviet pilot would have no chance of reaching the nearest foreign airport. The "line of no return" was defined by this distrust of the people charged with the protection of our country.
Along the way, a question occurred to me - and I must admit, I have many questions concerning this story, not all for the military. How much effect did the decision to limit the capabilities of pilots have on the defense capability of our country? After all, it is true that the pilots were not always able due to their equipment to carry out their mission! I mean, what if we really met one of those enemies, about whom we were always worried about in those days. An enemy, who might carry out an actual bomb strike for example, or conduct a spy mission. Behind him trying to catch up flies an "under fueled" Soviet pilot. And so, to put it bluntly, Kazmin was forced to cut short his intercept and return to base. The "Boeing" was not lost. It just unwittingly continued its flight further and further toward Sakhalin.
For a long time, more than an hour, the KAL-007 was tracked only by ground based radar stations. Finally two fighters took off from Sokol Airport on Sakhalin to intercept him.
We will return to what happened next a little later. For now let us return to the familiar and not so familiar versions of the tragedy.
...Mishel Bran, a French expert, investigated this incident for a private American organization "Fund to Support Constitutional Rights". Two fundamental propositions provide the basis for his version.
First, the South Korean liner was not shot down by Soviet fighters from Sakhalin but suffered an accident under mysterious circumstances in the area of the Sangarskij Straits over the coasts of Japan.
Second, a military battle really did take place in Soviet air space. There were several American military aircraft involved, three of which were destroyed, but the "Boeing" was not involved.
Our Tokyo correspondent, Sergej Agafonov, spoke with Bran and received a first hand explanation. I will not give this expert's complete version for two reasons - because it is so large and because it is such a fantasy. Although, we must mention it because it was finally presented to very important American groups.
I will cite just a few of Mishel Bran's ideas. He states that he was able to obtain a copy of the recording of the 007 pilots transmissions. A partial analysis of the tape led experts to the conclusion that the "Boeing" was still in the air almost 50 minutes after it was "buried" by a salvo of missiles from a Soviet fighter. In addition, an analysis of the flight characteristics of the Soviet military pursuit aircraft and the intruder over Sakhalin, which was released by the Japanese Directorate of National Defense, led Bran to a different sensationalistic conclusion - the Soviet aircraft were pursuing not the "Boeing" but several supersonic targets at once.
M. Bran presented his version (in the form of an official report) to the ICAO in August 1989; although, he received no reply from them. According to information from foreign agencies, the results of Mishel Bran's investigation were presented to American congressmen, including Senator Nunn (the person, who, as already reported in Izvestia issue nr 353, along with others who wrote Mikhail Gorbachev a letter requesting him to conduct a conclusive investigation into this incident from the Soviet side to a conclusion and to publish the results.
The Tokyo office of France Press told our reporter that the Senator then refused to comment on intelligence information, which the French expert's report might contain. As for the Pentagon's reaction, it's well known that Rick Osborne, a Dept of Defense representative, stated that the U.S. Air Force had no loses at the beginning of September 1983 and said the French expert's purposals were ridiculous.
Next, we decided to do a cross check on Mishel Bran and asked Marshall of Aviation Kirsanov to comment on his version. Why him in particular? From 1 through 6 September, Petr Semenovich headed the commission, which examined the Air Defense and Air Forces actions in the Far Eastern Military District.
The Marshal's first response was a curt "Nonsense."
He, of course, told us about the group of Soviet military experts, who made a careful and thorough study of all the circumstances surrounding this incident. They established the fact that the intruder strayed off course more than 500 kilometers and that it was attacked at 22:24 near the village of Pravda. Two missiles were launched at it. After ten minutes, the target disappeared from radar contact at a height of 5 kilometers...
"It should be noted that an American spy plane was flying in that same area at an altitude of 8,000 meters at approximately the same time", continued Kirsanov. "A conclusion was drawn based on a comparison of reconnaissance flight routes near the Karaginskiy Gulf, that that type of plane was flying toward Kamchatka. But we haven't ruled out an E-3A (AWACS). The signatures of both these aircraft are the same on a radar screen."
"Then why did the Frenchman doubt the Boeing's crash location?"
"I can't understand it either", replied the Marshal. He was silent for a moment then made a truly shocking comment, "After all, the aircraft was found. An operation was carried out to recover the wreckage. It was done openly. They were observed by foreigners..."
Thus a sensation! Until now, no Soviet expert had ever admitted that the Korean Boeing had been found.
By the way, perhaps I am getting a little ahead of myself with these comments.
But, there is one person who can easily refute the statements of all these Generals (except the fact that the aircraft was found), the French expert and our own 1983 propaganda as well.
His name is Gennadij Nikolaevich Osipovich. This was the very man, a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserves today, who, on the night of 31 August-1 September 1983, pressed the missile launch button
(1) In the original Russian, the reporter tells the joke, but it does not translate well into English. However, I can give you an explanation of the joke. MiG is an abbreviation, which designates a type of aircraft. The abbreviation comes from the names of the aircraft's designers. Mig is also a Russian word, which means a "moment" or a "twinkling." The joke was a play on words as in a MIG to Japan, which in Russian can mean either "in a MIG jet to Japan" or "in a moment/in a twinkling to Japan." Humm! Well, this explain too well in English either, does it? Well, the Russians apparently thought it was funny.
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