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On 29 October, the command was given to wrap things up on the drilling ship "Mikhail Mirchink". Apparently, the thing for which we were searching had been found.
They "decompressed" the divers or to put it more plainly, they gradually reduced the pressure in a decompression chamber, until the four guys could return to normal pressure after their month in confinement.
Only the fishermen remained in the search area after the November holidays. They continued their deceptive fishing for several more days.
The Mirchink left and continued about its drilling, but crew members had mementos of their unusual and secret job stashed away in their compartments. Former senior aide of the Mirchink, Zh. Aleshchenko:
"Of course, it was forbidden to take anything brought to the surface; however, the boys had difficulty not taking a memento. I saw pieces from about five meters away... Somewhere I even had a piece of of the Boeing fuselage, laminated duralumin and some kind of polymer film between the two layers of aluminum... I even wound up with two documents of some kind. I wanted to give them to our fishermen who were sailing to Seoul. I said they would be a memorial for relatives. However, the fishermen did not want to get involved. Our fear is deep..."
Former operator of the "Mirchink", V. Verbitskiy:
"Pieces were brought up, listed, and taken away (to Nevelsk, it seems), and stored at the port there. Many people took pieces of the Boeing for souvenirs, and machined wine-glasses from titanium nuts... Apparently, this plane hit the water with terrible force because even the titanium nuts burst..."
Chief of the diver service, V. Zakharchenko:
"They didn't let anyone into the area where the military stored things from the sea floor. Nonetheless, the entire crew got themselves souvenirs. Once I remember the military men forgot a large piece of the fuselage on deck. The metal was thick. By next morning, the crew had sawed it apart and dragged it off. In the morning, they looked for it, but it was not there. They asked: "Where is the piece of metal we left?", and we all answered: "We don't understand..."
Lt Col Ilya Mamedov is deputy commander of the political dept at a military unit at Kursk Garrison. In September 1983, he was serving in the Far East. He was the secretary of a party bureau in an infantry regiment...
"After the Boeing was shot down, they summoned us, the elite of the district commanders and political officers, to a meeting of party activists in Khabarovsk. There was a stormy critique of recent events in the skies over the Far East. The fact was that prior to the Boeing tragedy American reconnaissance aircraft had violated our airspace in the east several times and had gotten away with it. As Air Force people told me, there were penetrations hundreds of kilometers deep. So passions regarding violators of our national airspace were rather intense before the Boeing appeared in the sky. As it came out at this meeting of the district party activists, the aircraft was downed on the orders of then Commander of the Far Eastern Military District Ivan Tretyak. It may be no accident that this utterly ground-troops general later headed the Air Defense Troops of the country."
In the lobby of the Khabarovsk meeting, they vigorously discussed a documentary filmed at the location of the Boeing crash. A group of military men saw it. They even said that the wreckage of the plane was very clear on the film. I know a person who at that time was an instructor in the political department on Kamchatka. He even has a piece of the Boeing. Later this documentary was made highly classified. It was not easy to reach the location of this tragedy. Right after the successful attack by the Soviet fighter, a general stationed on virtually every little island..."
No matter how hard the employees of official organizations tried to hide all traces of the Korean plane, they did not succeed. Why even the divers themselves could not resist taking at least something as a memento. After a short vacation, they returned to their Murmansk diving vessel, the Sprut.
Their former colleague N. Grebtsov recalls their return:
"It seems that it was already December when they arrived. We had some French visitors on board. We were holding a training course. On that day, we had kind of a banquet. After everyone had started feeling good, several divers barged into the mess room and joined us. I remember very well how they began producing various gadgets from their pockets. I will not name all of them, but I do remember a golf ball and also children's toys. The divers were very excited... Later they told some stories but with some reluctance. Some of us managed to find out quite a bit, others less. Even if they did get signatures from the divers, they certainly warned them to remain keep their mouths shut..."
However, golf balls or titanium nuts are such trifles that, of course, nobody would have had them sign any special pledge on account of those. If there were an object about which they were to remain silent forever, it was the so-called "black box." It was the main object of interest and the principal goal of the entire search operation. It was for the sake of these boxes that the planes flew, the ships sailed, and the divers risked their lives.
Here is another excerpt from the narration of V. Zakharchenko:
"I have the following from expert sources. These boxes are objects that by opening we may obtain complete information on all flight parameters, the status of the aircraft, and all conversations that have taken place. This is why "black boxes" are of such great value.
"It is thought that when a plane is lost, especially if it flies over the ocean, the boxes remain afloat after the fall and switch on radio beacons so you can retrieve these boxes by helicopter or boat and determine the cause of the catastrophe. This is quite probable... After all, our vessels didn't arrive there right away. Ships from Japan for instance, from some other place could have seen where we were going. They could have fished out the boxes. But did the black boxes have this capability and were there such on the KAL-007 flight? I do not know. I am not a pilot, and I cannot assert anything with 100 percent certainty.
"We were told that our work was classified and that upon our arrival at home we should try to forget everything. This did not happen. The truth is I kept a diary and wrote everything down. They confiscated the diary from me when the search was over. (At this point, the narrator laughs and throws up his hands). God, what a life we lead!... Informers were found, They called in to the special department and told: me, "You kept a diary, did you not?" I said: "Yes." "Turn it in, please." I did. I went, took it out of my suitcase, and surrendered it. They also took away a movie... Stool pigeons... Memory is all that remains.
"I cannot say definitely whether they found the "black box" or not. However, I can't say they didn't either. They brought up all kinds of parts and boxes. It's possible that those boxes could have been among them? I am not an expert and can't say for sure whether they were or weren't... At first, I was firmly convinced that the plane was empty, but later we found articles and documents... No, I don't know.
"However, we were not the only ones to go underwater. To be absolutely precise, I must tell you that the Academy of Sciences sent in its ship and underwater vehicles. I think they had OSA's ("manned stabilized vehicles" - author). They found something. They handed over to us a bright orange ball. They did not bring up anything else."
A bright orange ball. Something similar appears in many of the recollections of witnesses and participants in the events. Here, for example, Zh. Aleshchenko's story:
"I remember for sure. They found these boxes and the military took them away, the so-called "black boxes..." They said there were two, but I personally saw only one. It was a small bright-red ball, the size of a volleyball. As I understood it, there was no special (spy) equipment on the Boeing. It was simply overflying Kamchatka and Sakhalin in order to stimulate our air defense assets..."
Red, orange, or pink. One, two, or three. The size of a volleyball or a typewriter. Such are the differences in the "testimony" we have been able to get. But even with all the variations in the description of the "very important object" (we can't forget that more that seven years have passed!), there are considerably more affirmative answers - "yes, they were found!" - than there are doubts. I will quote one more anonymous piece of testimony by a person working on the Mirchink, but I will warn that the editorial office cannot guarantee the authenticity of this anonymous information. We have a right (and an obligation!) keep the sources of information secret. So, here is the narration of a person who came to Izvestia:
There are supposed to be "four "black boxes" on a Boeing. Three were retrieved - two normal and one deformed. They look like large doughnuts covered with hermetic lids. There are plugs for plugging them into on-board circuits. They are usually mounted close to the side doors. They are generally the same, as a rule, red or pink. These boxes are specially built to withstand a powerful shock. They were brought up on board in bags filled with water. The military hauled them away from the Mirchink on a patrol boat in the same bags filled with water. The remains of the plane's body were searched with the help of specialists for non standard (in other words, spy. author) equipment. No such equipment was not found on the plane."
Now about a telephone call to the editorial office. My caller was calm, stern, and unequivocal:
"I am a military person passing through Moscow on my way to a temporary duty assignment. I am prepared to share with you some personal knowledge concerning the Korean Boeing. However, I will warn you right off - I will only talk on the phone, I will not meet with you, and I will not give you my rank, name, or place of service. Are these terms satisfactory?"
I had to say that it was satisfactory. I understood from my interlocutor's very first sentences that this was neither a provocation nor disinformation. The point is that he largely discussed things, materials, that were already in Izvestia's files. He mentioned facts, names, and events that we had already learned about in the course of the investigation and that had been confirmed by pertinent documented admissions. Still, there were also some new nuances in his story. Therefore, I will present it in brief:
"At the time, I was in the Navy, and I may be considered a participant in the search operation for the Korean Boeing-747. The main stages of this operation were as follows: a group of military trawlers immediately sailed from Sakhalin to the crash site, which had been determined from the air by the articles and wreckage that had risen to the surface. The suspected impact area was "staked", and buoys were placed to mark the area of search operations. The trawlers combed the area using specific equipment. Headquarters was set up in Nevelsk on Sakhalin. A hero of the Soviet Union, who at that time was the chief of Air Force intelligence, was assigned to this headquarters. Alas, I do not remember his name and patronymic. There were also technical specialists from the defense industry and in particular from the Ministry of Aviation Industry. Another headquarters was set up on the flagship Petropavlovsk. It was headed by Rear Admirals Vladimirov and Apollonov. The entire "naval component" was personally supervised by the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Vladimir Vasilyevich Sidorov. He is retired now. Objects and wreckage from this plane, which crashed in neutral waters (this latter assertion needs to be especially verified - author), were floating on the surface. They were picked up by the military trawlers and were transferred to both the BPK (Large Antisubmarine Warfare Ship) Petropavlovsk and to Nevelsk where they were thoroughly sorted by the most knowledgeable experts. There was just one purpose - to find "the black box," or more precisely, the "black boxes." These were instruments from the Boeing, which, after decoding, would contain priceless information.
"I can affirm that the "black box" itself was retrieved and delivered specifically to Nevelsk, where it was inspected by experts from the aircraft industry. After this, it was placed in a container filled with sea water. Apparently, a detailed examination was impossible on Sakhalin, and this supersecret package was sent to Moscow. I was a witness."
"Where to? Do you know the addressee?"
"Unfortunately, I do not. However, I am certain that the people I have named plus then Commander of the Far Eastern Military District Tretyak know this, of course. But will they talk? I am not sure that they will talk about this now, even though there is no risk for them. Most of the people I named are retired..."
The anonymous caller said good-bye and hung up.
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