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After being hit by the two missiles, the aircraft fell for about ten minutes. With its engine destroyed and missing wing, it made, they think, two circles around the island Moneron and then went into the water at approximately the speed of sound.
Several experts say, that if the "Boeing" had hit land, then the destruction would not have been as bad as hitting the water. If it had hit a solid surface, that part of the fuselage would have of course, crumpled. The rest of the structure would have absorbed the shock. But the force of striking the water literally ripped the aircraft to shreds. As a result, the pieces of wreckage that were found were no bigger that one or two meters.
However, I am running ahead again. During those days in September, when this noisy, international scandal began flaring up and there were angry exchanges between the Soviet and American press, the question about what the aircraft wreckage would look like was yet to be raised. Newspapers were basically absorbed with two other question. In whose waters would the downed aircraft be found and would the "black box" be found?
And so we arrive at the most tangled part of the story of the Boeing-747 - the story of its discovery.
It became so tangled first of all, because everything that occurred in the water, in the air and on the ground in the area of the search for the Korean aircraft was from the very beginning shrouded in an atmosphere of secrecy. A lot of people were brought into the search - military, civilian, representatives from the intelligence and security agencies... The secrecy covered everything that happened, but it was not applied equally, which confused the situation even more. Even today, a reporter who wants to investigate these secret events is in difficult straits because of the secrecy I mentioned. There is no flow of events. There is no one who can document the entire course of events.
In addition, the usual disarray when trying to accomplish something concrete, which has become so entrenched in our country, played no small role in compounding the confusion (in this case, find something, bring it to the surface and keep it secret). I repeat there were many people from the military to fishermen (I have yet to relate what the fishermen were doing in the search area). In addition, the official version up until the last few months has never been refuted by anyone in the USSR. They said that the aircraft has never been found! This version had to be maintained both within and without the country. Almost as many people were assigned to this "humanitarian" job as there were to the search itself. The layers of lies or "half truths" have increased prettily over the years.
By the way, after a short period of time, our newspapers seemed to forget about the tragedy of the South Korean aircraft. We would never have guessed that following the tragedy in the skies over the Far East, a cover up involving so many people was being played out on the surface of the ocean. For us, the readers, (and writers) of the Soviet press, the "Boeing" ceased to exist rather quickly. It was simply and plainly suggested that we forget about it. Only a select few on the strength of their jobs knew about the reverberations of the September incident, which continued to upset western readers.
As for me, as a journalist, at first, right after the September shock, an investigation into the story of the "Boeing" did not appear to warrant serious consideration, but was more a protest against the silence, because I had little hope of telling the truth and in the process, refuting the official line of the Soviet government. How could anyone believe in freedom of speech under that regime and the pervasive censorship?... At the time my modest attempts at trying to uncover anything seemed my like a professional waste of time, not like the way it was shown in the Soviet film "Journalist", rather more like in the western version, "Profession - Reporter."
However banal it sounds, the matter was decided by chance and by my long time love for the far east. I took my next vacation to Sakhalin in the company of friends. There I met with an employee of, shall we say, an authoritative office. He showed me a package of photographs of various objects, basically just things.
"These are from the "Boeing," he said. "Our confusion here over the search for the "Korean" just recently ended. Later we had to destroy these things, but not all of course. I never saw any bodies or instruments. In general, other agencies took care of those things. And my colleagues had to decide what to do with the scraps.
"And what was decided?", I asked timidly.
"They destroyed everything that wasn't turned in"
"But what was there anyway?"
"Here, look. Various objects. Money was found... Well, all sorts of rubbish, that passengers have on international flights."
Apparently due to the specific nature of his profession, he could not say more. But even this was something.
I was not able to get those photographs in 1984. Some evidence began appearing in a file labeled "Boeing" only as a result of Izvestia's investigation
I departed Sakhalin with the firm intention of digging out the truth. There were other meeting on the island, in Nevelsk, Kholmsk, and conversations with navy sailors, and the first admissions that they were direct and indirect participants in these events.
There were even send offs, that seem absurd today, but completely natural in those years of "cross the table chats." They laid a table for me on the hood of a black "Volga" on the concrete strip of that "secret" airport "Sokol." You could see those very SU's and Mig's - the interceptors, and about 100 meters from our feast, there was the painfully nervous procedure for landing the Tu-154, with which every Aeroflot passenger is well acquainted. Passenger aircraft stood side by side with military aircraft, seemingly so quite, peaceful, that there never was any night flight by Gennadij Osipovich from this runway, that there never was any international scandal, that there never was any 269 dead.
Time passed, but the subject of the Korean "Boeing" (from time to time) continued to pop up. Experts in the west compiled reports and hypotheses about whether the lost plane had ever been found. Indirect evidence that it had been found appeared about a year after the catastrophe. It (the evidence) turned out to be western popular music. The fact was that American listening posts on the island of Hokkaido discovered Soviet radio stations on Sakhalin transmitting the same recordings, that were used to entertain the passengers on the Boeing-747, flight KAL-007. After this radio intercept, American experts began suggesting more persistently that the Soviets had succeeded in discovering the aircraft wreckage and apparently in removing the electronic equipment. The Soviets (they do not exclude this) even have the conversations between members of the crew during those last 30 minutes of the flight included in this electronic equipment.
They again began demanding that the USSR publicize the material that was found. Yet, as far as I know, we stood pat and maintained our silence...
Now, more that seven years later, we are still trying to construct a picture of those days of that long ago autumn.
...Immediately after the first story in Izvestia, the former commander of a manned submersible, who was a witness to some of the events connected with the search for the "Boeing" came to see me.
Now N. N. Grebtsov works as a senior scientific associate at the All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Drilling Equipment.
Here is how the search for the downed aircraft began according to this former submariner.
"I was working at that time on the "Sprut." This is a specialized, diving vessel, which trained crews for drilling ships. At that time (at the beginning of September 1983) the best forces of the diving service headed by Vladimir Vasilevich Zakharchenko (he still heads this service). We were working in the Barents Sea, when a radiogramm arrived. "Prepare a 12 man crew." We quickly outfitted a crew and sat down to wait further instructions. We were told, that the people would be removed from the "Sprut" while still at sea.
This was, I think, 10 September. I was there hanging out on the bridge. The matter was being dragged out for several hours... But it turned out that the military was simply waiting for darkness. After it became dark enough, so that everything secrect could be maintained, an aircraft carrier, the Novorossijsk, arrived and launched a helicopter. There was a hut next to the helicopter landing pad. We waited there. Everything was very interesting. A thunderous voice from the sky, amplified by the ship's radio, sounded it call sign.
"This is Personazh-1, Personazh-1..."
Later the Personage himself appeared, a rather terrifying sight for regular person. Ka-32, fully armed pilots in helmets. All the divers could not go at once. They took 6 people at a time. And the "company" disappeared. They disappeared for a long time and nothing was known about them.
Several days before the night, they took the best divers in the country from off the "Sprut" under cover of darkness. The Chief of the Far East Directorate of Deep Water Drilling received a telephone call. My colleague, a companion on trips through the taiga, Stanislav Glukhov from Khabarovsk, spoke with him.
"I was TDY at a port on Sakhalin when I heard that the "Boeing" had been shot down. I understand that that evening the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Ocean Fleet called. Anyway, by morning, there was already a telegram lying on my desk from the chief of the Ministry of Gas Industry, which said, "Send a drilling ship at once." With no explanation. We sent the "Mikhail Mirchink" to the search area.
Why specifically a drilling ship, why the "Mirchink"? As was explained to me by some knowledgeable people during Izvestia's investigation, in order to find the aircraft, it was necessary to have a ship, which could not only determine its coordinates very precisely, but which was also capable of positioning - that is remain at a specific spot. Three such ships, as the "Mirchink", were built in Scandinavia for our country, and the Mirchink was the closest one to the search area at that time.
They called the Murmansk divers because all three ships had been put into operations in Murmansk, and the best specialists worked there. And without them, the job could not come together for the military. They quickly found out that the naval fleet, which had undertaken this secret assignment, did not have the necessary resources for the search and the necessary equipment, which was well known and widespread even from the point of view of world practice. This sounds even stranger, if you keep in mind, that in those years, the military got everything it asked for and had vast amounts of equipment. However, the military assured us, that the equipment, even if they did have it, was not in working order.
As for divers, the military does have its own underwater rescue service. They cannot exceed a maximum depth of 160 meters, and they cannot remain under water more then 15 to 20 minutes with the equipment supplied by the armed forces. This job, from all appearances, would require longer (dives).
So, after deciding that their forces could not cope, the military began bringing everyone to the search area that could (cope). They could bring a lot of people, as we know. Everything took place in a small strip of water on the edge of the 12 mile limit (for national waters). You know the aircraft hit the ocean very close to this line, this invisible border between national waters and neutral waters. As they say, at approximately mile 11.
Ships from every direction converged on this area, this spot on the map - from the shores of the Soviet Union; from international waters, Americans, Japanese... Even the most conservative estimate would place the final total at several dozen. Some estimate as many as 70 to a 100.
In this maritime traffic jam, people had different assignments. Some people searched, others watched, and still others hid whatever was found, covering their tracks...
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