Attack on KAL 007: From Inside

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Sukhoi-15 TM interceptor

On Sept. 1, 1983, a Soviet military jet (Sukhoi Su-15 intercepter), piloted by Maj. Gennadie Osipovich, launched two Anab R-98 medium range air to air missiles damaging Korean Airlines Flight 007 carrying 269 passengers and crew. This caused the civilian airliner to come down in the Tatar Straits in the vicinity of Moneron Island just west of Sakhalin Island. It was thought that in the subsequent search operations the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Digital Flight Data Recorder, both components of the "Black Box", were unrecovered, though suspicion at various times was directed at both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But it was the Soviet Union that recovered them, concealing this fact until in 1992 they were handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of the U.N. and deciphered. The following is the combined and coordinated tapes from both recorders, and provide a composite understanding of what went on in the cockpit of KAL 007 from the time of missile detonation at 18:26:02 GMT until one minute and 44 seconds later - the extent of the tapes returned with the Black Box to ICAO . The following transcripts include the following:


Every word spoken by Pilot-in-Command, Chun Byung-In, Co-Pilot and First Officer, Son Dong-Hui, and Flight Engineer, Kim Eui-Dong, recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder. The condition of sixteen parameters picked up by sensors reporting the different functions of the aircraft recorded for us by the Digital Flight Data Recorder. For this discussion, refer to the two graphs, Plot 1 [1] and Plot 2 [2] (prepared by Laboratoire BEA, Paris, subcontract for ICAO).

Transcripts are from the International Civil Aviation Committee report of 1993 Subject 14. Subjects relating to Air Navigation, Report of the Completion of the Fact-Finding Investigation Regardomg the Shootinng Down of Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 (KE007) On 31 Aug. 1983". Council - 139th Session

For Plot 1., see [3]

For Plot 2., see [4]

At 18:26:02 (06:26:02 Sakhalin time), Maj. Osipovich's ANAB radar-guided air-to-air missile explodes 50 meters behind and slightly to the right of KAL 007's tail.

KAL 007's nose begins to pitch up immediately (Plot 1, line 2) to be followed by a more gradual increase in altitude (Plot 1, line 1). These changes appear on the crew's instruments. They may also have sensed them. Immediately upon missile detonation, the jumbo jet begins to experience buffeting (yawing) as the dual channel yaw damper is damaged (Plot 2, line 6). Yawing would not have occurred if either No. 1 or No. 2 hydraulic systems were fully operational. What does not happen that should have happened is that the control column (Plot 1, line 3) does not thrust forward upon impact (it should have done so, as the plane was on autopilot -- plot 2, line 8 -- to bring down the plane to its former altitude of 35,000 feet). This failure of the autopilot to correct the rise in altitude indicates that hydraulic system No. 3, which operates the autopilot actuator, a system controlling the plane's elevators, was damaged or out. KAL 007's airspeed (Plot 1, line 4) and acceleration rate (Plot 1, line 5) both begin to decrease as the plane begins to climb.

At 18:26:06, Capt. Chun yells out, "What happened?" First Officer Son responds, "What?" Two seconds later, Chun yells, "Retard throttles." Son responds, "Engines normal, sir." (This indicates that Maj. Osipovich's heat seeking missile has missed its mark.) KAL 007 continues its climb (it will do so until it reaches 38,250 ft. in altitude -- Plot 1, line 1) when at twenty seconds after missile detonation a click is heard in the cabin -- which is identified as the "automatic pilot disconnect warning" sound. Pilot or co-pilot has disconnected the autopilot and is now manually thrusting the control column forward (Plot 1, line 3) in order to bring down the plane. But we see that though the autopilot has been turned "off" (Plot 2, line 8), manual mode will not kick in for another twenty seconds (Plot 2, line 9). This failure of manual to engage upon being commanded indicates again, failure in hydraulic systems No. 1 and No. 2. But there is progress, of sorts! Though still rising in altitude, with the thrusting forward of the control column, KAL 007's nose begins to come down. That is, pitch is being corrected (Plot 1, line 2). Nevertheless, Capt. Chun absorbed with the danger of the rising altitude, calls out, "Altitude is going up!... Altitude is going up!" (18:26:22 and 18:26:24) But immediately another problem presents itself.

Chun (18:26:25): Speed brake is coming out!

Son (18:26:26): What? What?

Chun (18:26:29): Check it out!

But, according to the DFDR, the speed brake was not coming out. The pilots immediately return to the main problem.

Son (18:26:33): I am not able to drop altitude -- now unable.

Chun (18:26:38): Altitude is going up.

Chun (18:26:40): This is not working. This is not working.

And here, appparently, a change takes place.

At 18:26:41, Capt. Chun apparently orders First Officer Son to again disengage the autopilot "manually." Son appears to do so at the same time he despairingly says, "cannot do manually" (18:26:42) and a second later reiterates, "not working manually also." But, at that moment two things happen. The sound of the autopilot disconnect warning is heard once again (CVR) and the autopilot kicks in to the desired manual mode (Plot 2, line 9). Capt. Chun is once again in control.

At 18:26:45, First Officer Son again reports, "Engines are normal, sir." Once again, there is confirmation that the heat-seeking missile failed to hit its mark.

Though Capt. Chun does not move the control column any more forward than it already is (Plot 1, line 3), the altitude (Plot 1, line 1) begins to come down and is now in line with the pitch (Plot 1, line 2). Both airspeed (Plot 1, line 4) and acceleration (Plot 1, line 5) increase rapidly as KAL 007 begins a quick descent.

Still in descent, Capt. Chun and Flight Engineer, Kim Eui-Dong blurt out (one second apart):

Kim (18:36:50): Is it power compression?

Chun (18:36:51): Is that right?

Kim (18:36:52): All or both.

Chun (18:36:53): Is that right?

For the next nine seconds there is silence, but Capt. Chun will be at the height of activity. As KAL 007 reaches its peak of acceleration and descends to slightly under pre-missile altitude, Capt. Chun brings the nose up for about 10 seconds (Plot 1, line 2), acceleration decreases markedly and then levels out at pre-missile rate.

Prior to the 10 -second pull-up, First Officer Son is on the High Frequency Radio No. 1 calling Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center (Plot 2, line 7):

Son (18:26:57): Tokyo Radio, Korean Air Zero Zero Seven

Tokyo (18:27:02): Korean Air Zero Zero Seven, Tokyo

Son (18:27:04): Roger, Korean Air Zero Zero Seven... (unreadable) Ah, we (are experiencing)...

Chun, interjecting (18:27:09): ALL COMPRESSION

Son (18:27:10): Rapid compressions. Descend to one zero thousand.

As First Officer Son's call to Tokyo concludes, Capt. Chun begins his gradual descent.

Though yawing has continued through to the end of the tape and, presumably, to the end of the flight, all the other major parameters indicate that KAL 007 exhibits a good measure of airworthiness and control. The dive has been stopped and the jumbo jet is in a slight descent. Pitch is in line with the angle of descent. "Indicated Air Speed" (IAS, Plot 1, line 4) has returned almost exactly to what it was prior to missile detonation (310 knots), after rapid acceleration in dive, and rapid deceleration at the end of the eight-second pull-up, KAL 007 is now at steady, normal (zero) acceleration -- as it was prior to missile detonation -- and the autopilot, now in the command position off, is operating as it should with Capt. Chun in manual control. But there is work to do at hand. From the flight deck (the transcript does not identify the voices):

18:27:20: Now... We have to set this

18:27:23: speed

18:27:26: Stand by, stand by, stand by, set!

Maintaining control of KAL 007 with three of its four hydraulic systems damaged or out might well have been difficult but by no means impossible. Appendix E (in Rescue 007) contains the transcript of an aircraft being flown eighteen miles with all hydraulics out.

G. Norris and M. Wagner in Boeing (MBT Publishing, Osceolo, WI 1998) explain (pg. 128) the safety benefits of multiple redundant hydraulic systems for the 747 and give an example.

The explanation -- "The hydraulics provided actuation for all the primary flight controls; all secondary flight controls (except leading edge flaps); and landing gear retraction, extension, gear steering, and wheel braking. Systems 1 and 4 could be used for all purposes [KAL 007's hydraulic system no. 4 was undamaged], while systems 2 and 3 were normally used for flight control only... System 4 also had a third electrical power source. Each primary flight control axis received power from all four hydraulic systems."

The example -- In July of 1971, Pan Am's flagship aircraft, a Boeing 747, registered N747PA, hit a light gantry upon take-off from San Francisco International Airport. The crew had misjudged the speed of the aircraft and the length of the runway. As the plane pulled up sharply in an attempt to clear it, the rear end of the fuselage came down on the gantry. The aircraft continued to take off and with the gantry stuck in its cargo area and with three of the hydraulic systems destroyed. The jumbo jet circled the airport and made a safe landing -- still with the gantry stuck through its cargo area and only one hydraulic system operational.


CVR Last Moments comparisons

Cockpit Voice Recorder tapes end, most often,with the successful flight arriving at the ramp of the airport of destination, or end recording the flight deck human agony and horror at impending catastrophe. The last words heard on the CVR tape are - 18:27:20: "Now... We have to set this. 18:27:23: speed 18:27:26: Stand by, stand by, stand by, stand by, set!"

These words are in stark contrast to the common types of last words uttered as an aircraft is about to crash, bringing to the fore the question, "Why did the Soviets not hand over the rest of the tapes recording the rest of KAL 007's flight?":


US Air Flight 427 September 8, 1994—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Flight 427, for reasons still unknown, has turned over onto its back and in another 16 seconds will hit the ground. Copilot: Oh, (expletives). Captain: Hang on. What the h-ll is this? Cabin: [Sound of stick shaker vibrations indicating imminent stall; sound of altitude alert.] Captain: What the… Copilot: Oh… Captain: Oh God, Oh God..Approach: USAir. Captain: Four twenty-seven, emergency! Co-pilot: [Screams.] Captain: Pull. Copilot: Oh…Captain: Pull… pull… Copilot: God… Captain:[Screams.] Copilot: No…

End of tape.


Yukla 27 September 22, 1995—Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska

Immediately upon takeoff, Yukla 27, an Air Force Boeing 707 configured as a radar E-3A, took several Canadian geese in engines one and two, disintegrating fan blades. All 24 aboard were lost in the ensuing crash.

Cabin: Yukla Two Seven heavy’s [indicating large or wide-bodied plane] coming back around for an emergency return. Lower the nose. Lower the nose.

Tower: Two Seven heavy, roger.

Captain: Goin’ down.

Copilot: Oh my God.

Captain: Oh (expletive).

Copilot: Okay, give it all you got, give it all you got. Two Seven heavy, emergency…

Tower: Roll the crash [equipment] roll the crash—

Copilot: [Over public address system] Crash [landing]!

Captain: We’re going in. We’re going down.

End of Tape.


Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 August 21, 1995—Carrolton, Georgia

21 minutes into its flight, Flight 529’s left engine has fallen apart or exploded. Parts of the propeller blades are wedged against the wing and the front part of the cowling is destroyed. The captain and seven passengers will die. The copilot will survive with burns over 80% of his body.

Captain. [To copilot] Help me. Help me hold it. Help me hold it. Help me hold it.

Cabin: [Vibrating sound of the stick shaker starts warning of stall.]

Copilot: Amy, I love you.

Cabin: [Sound of grunting; sound of impact.]

End of tape.

(The Black Box, Malcom MacPherson (ed.) Quill William Morrow, New York: 1998)


These authentic last words coming from the flight decks of aircraft about to crash are in stark contrast to the "last words" coming from the Soviet recovered and retained and Russian Federation supplied tapes:

"Now... We have to set this. Speed, stand by, stand by, stand by, stand by, set!"

See Also

External Links

International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors

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