Korean Air Flight 858 Explodes Mid-Air From North Korean Bomb
Korean Air Flight 858 was en route from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok on 29 November 1987 when it exploded over the Andaman Sea killing all 115 on board.
Two North Korean agents had boarded the plane in Baghdad and departed during its stopover in Abu Dhabi having left a time bomb in an overhead compartment and were arrested when they attempted to leave Bahrain using fake Japanese passports. Both immediately swallowed cyanide capsules. The male, later identified as 70-year-old Kim Sung Il, died almost instantly, but the female suspect, 26-year-old Kim Hyon Hui, survived.
According to testimony at a United Nations Security Council meeting, on 15 December 1987 Kim Hyon Hui was transferred to Seoul where she recovered from the poison and, after seeing life in South Korea on television, realized that she had been "exploited as a tool for North Korean terrorist activities", and made a detailed and voluntary confession outlining her travels under the guidance of North Korean agents from Pyongyang via Moscow, Budapest, Vienna, Belgrade, and eventually to Baghdad where the bomb was primed. The escape route was to be from Abu Dhabi via Amman to Rome but was diverted to Bahrain due to visa complications.
In January 1988, Kim announced at a press conference held by the Agency for National Security Planning, the South Korean secret services agency, that both she and her partner were North Korean operatives. She said that they had left a radio containing 350 grams of C-4 explosive and a liquor bottle containing approximately 700 ml of PLX explosive in an overhead rack in the passenger cabin of the aircraft. Kim expressed remorse at her actions and asked for the forgiveness of the families of those who had died. She also said that the order for the bombing had been "personally penned" by Kim Jong-il, the son of North Korean President Kim Il-sung, who had wanted to destabilize the South Korean government, disrupt upcoming elections and frighten teams from attending the Seoul Olympics. An article written by Peter Maass for The Washington Post and dated 15 January 1988 states that it was unknown whether Kim was coerced in her remarks or in her remorse for her actions.
In 1993, William Morrow & Co published The Tears of My Soul, Kim Hyon Hui's account of how she was trained as a North Korean espionage agent and carried out the bombing of KAL flight 858. In a gesture of contrition for her crime, she donated all of the proceeds from this book to the families of the victims of flight 858.
The United States State Department specifically refers to the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 as a "terrorist act" and until 2008 listed North Korea as a Designated State Sponsor of Terrorism based on the results of the South Korean investigation.
The action was discussed at length in at least two United Nations Security Council meetings where the allegations and evidence was aired by all sides, but no resolution was passed.
This act was the deadliest terrorist attack ever perpetrated against South Korea.
The feeble-looking man and his daughter sat quietly on a bench outside the airport immigration office in Bahrain. Despite their apparent calm, they were the center of an international storm. Two days earlier they had disembarked in Abu Dhabi from Korean Air Lines Flight 858, en route from Baghdad to Seoul. Hours later the plane disappeared over the Andaman Sea, shortly before a scheduled stopover in Thailand. Officials in Seoul openly speculated that the Boeing 707, carrying 95 passengers and a crew of 20, might have been destroyed by a bomb planted by North Korean agents. South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan said the North was intensifying "provocative moves to obstruct the upcoming presidential election and the Olympics."