Soviet jet fighters intercept a Korean Airlines passenger flight in Russian airspace and shoot the plane down, killing 269 passengers and crewmembers. The incident dramatically increased tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States.
On September 1, 1983, Korean Airlines (KAL) flight 007 was on the last leg of a flight from New York City to Seoul, with a stopover in Anchorage, Alaska. As it approached its final destination, the plane began to veer far off its normal course. In just a short time, the plane flew into Russian airspace and crossed over the Kamchatka Peninsula, where some top-secret Soviet military installations were known to be located. The Soviets sent two fighters to intercept the plane. According to tapes of the conversations between the fighter pilots and Soviet ground control, the fighters quickly located the KAL flight and tried to make contact with the passenger jet. Failing to receive a response, one of the fighters fired a heat-seeking missile. KAL 007 was hit and plummeted into the Sea of Japan. All 269 people on board were killed.
Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (KAL 007, KE 007) was a Korean Air Lines civilian airliner that was shot down by Soviet jet interceptors on September 1, 1983 over the Sea of Japan, just west of Sakhalin island over prohibited Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, a sitting member of the United States Congress. The aircraft was en route from New York City via Anchorage to Seoul when it strayed into prohibited Soviet airspace because of a navigational error.
The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted shooting the aircraft down, claiming that it was on a spy mission. The Politburo believed it was a deliberate provocation by the United States, to test the Soviet Union's military preparedness, or even to provoke a war. The United States accused the Soviet Union of obstructing search and rescue operations. Furthermore, the Soviet military suppressed evidence sought by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation, notably the flight data recorders, which were eventually released nine years later after a change of government.
The incident was one of the most tense moments of the Cold War, and resulted in an escalation of anti-Soviet sentiment, particularly in the United States. The opposing points of view on the incident were never fully resolved; consequently, several groups continue to dispute official reports and offer alternate theories of the event. The subsequent release of transcripts and flight recorders by the Russian Federation has addressed some details.
As a result of the incident, the United States altered tracking procedures for aircraft departing Alaska, while the interface of the autopilot used on airliners was redesigned to make it more failsafe. President Ronald Reagan ordered the U.S. military to make the Global Positioning System (GPS) available for civilian use so that navigational errors like that of KAL 007 could be averted in the future.