Passenger Plane Crashes at Sea

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Prior to the shootdown of KAL 007 in 1983, there had never been an instance of a Boeing 747 having crashed at sea. This made it difficult to assess what should or should not occur in such an incident. Subsequent to the shootdown, there were a number of incidences. The following is a comparison of Boeing 747 and other large bodied craft crashes at sea with the crash (alleged) of KAL 007.

Diffused Debris

Midair explosions or plane crashes at sea display a diffused or "egalitarian" pattern on the surface of the sea at the site site of the crash. In these instances, almost immediately after the crash or midair explosion. There is an indiscriminate mixture of flotsam and debris at the crash site. This admixture is made up of:

Bodies, body parts, and body tissues (sometimes in the thousands);

Various articles which were with or on the persons of the passengers such as wallets, purses, identity and other cards, electronic portable devises, eyeglasses;

Articles from or part of the cabin itself, such as sweaters, jackets, dinner trays, life vests, cups, magazines, signs such as "fasten seat belts",hand luggage, food carts;

Articles from the cargo section of the aircraft such as suitcases, packing crates, cartons, sporting goods, musical instruments, industrial and electronic equipment; and

Various sized fragments of the aircraft itself.

The greater the altitude of the aircraft at the time of the explosion, or the greater the duration of breakup and disintegration in the air, even at lower altitudes, the more scattered and diffuse the flotsam and debris turned out. It is virtually impossible for there to be a midair explosion and subsequent crash at sea without these features obtaining.

This is quite different than ship collisions or aircraft crashes on land. The sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic was decidedly un-egalitarian. 1,513 lives were lost when the Titanic went down; only 700 survived. All the children in First Class, except one, were saved, while 49 children in Steerage perished. The overall survival rates were as follows: 63% of first class passengers, 47% of second class passengers, and 25% of third class passengers. This was primarily due to the location of these passenger groups in the hull of the ship at the time it struck the iceberg, but “class structure” prejudices played their parts as well. Many commentators believe that a crash on land of an aircraft is likewise "discriminatory", though to a lesser degree. Often enough, the tail section is shorn away with great structural damage, and consequently greater loss of life to the passengers seated to the rear of the fuselage than to those seated in the mid- or fore section of the aircraft. Other commentators deny this structural “bias” (the "structual bias" does hold for water landings of passenger planes and passengers have been saved by moving to the front which is less liable to break off than the tail section - see Pan Am Flt. 6 of Water Ditching)

Comparison of Aerial/Sea Disaster Debri

  • Case One. Air India Boeing 747 Flight 182 was blown up by a terrorist bomb while flying above the North Atlantic near the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985. It was then at the altitude of 31,000 feet, about 4,000 feet less than that of KAL 007 when it was hit. Flight 182 plunged into the sea, killing all 329 passengers and crew. That same day, 123 bodies were recovered, and the next day eight more were recovered. Four months later, another body was recovered, strapped to its seat in a section of the fuselage lifted from the ocean bottom. The bodies were described by British Royal Navy doctor, Lt. Richard Cribb as “badly shattered and broken but all in one piece.” Over 40 percent of the passengers of Flight 182 were recovered, and from a depth of about 6,700 feet beneath the ocean surface. Debris was dispersed across four miles of sea bottom, and for a month luggage and other debris could be seen floating on the Irish Sea. Search operations had lasted four months.
  • Case Two. A South African Airlines Boeing 747, Flt. 295, crashed into the Indian Ocean on November 28, 1987. Aircraft debris, luggage, and bodies were scattered over 150 square miles and to the great depth of 12,000 feet. At least 15 of the 159 passenger and crew bodies were recovered—that is, about ten percent. Much luggage and debris were seen floating on the ocean surface for days. The search continued for one year.
  • Case Three. On July 3, 1988, during Operation Earnest Will, over 200 people were killed when the U.S.S. Vincennes, an Aegis class cruiser, shot down an Iranian Airbus passenger plane over the Persian Gulf toward the conclusion of the Iraq-Iran War. Hundreds of intermingled bodies, body parts and tissues and pieces of luggage were retrieved from the water.
  • Case Four. On January 28, 1986, at a height of 38,000 feet—3000 feet higher than KAL 007 when it was rocketed—the Space Shuttle Challenger experienced an explosion of such magnitude that parts of the space craft were hurled to an altitude of 52,800 feet (ten miles high!). This is the largest non-nuclear explosion that has ever occurred. “Yet, despite an explosive inferno that would make a Soviet rocket detonation (involving perhaps seventy pounds of explosives, the amount of the Anab missiles of the type fired at KAL 007 contain) seem like a firecracker, searches soon recovered more than twenty tons of the challenger wreckage.” (Robert W. Lee in the “New American,” August 29, 1988.) The bodies of all seven crew members were recovered— 100% recovery rate—mangled but all identifiable.
  • Case Five. July 17, 1996. Trans World Airlines Flight 800, a Boeing 747, exploded possibly due to mechanical causes in the air over the Atlantic. All 230 passengers and crew perished. All 230 passengers and crew (bodies, body parts and tissues) were recovered and identified over a one-year period, the last two being identified through DNA analysis.
  • Case Six. On Sept. 2, 1998, Swissair Flt. 111, an MD-11, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax International Airport at the entrance to St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia. The crash site was 8 kilometres from shore near the communities of Peggy's Cove and Bayswater. All 229 people on board were killed. The investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada took over four years . The aircraft broke apart on impact with the water, and most of the debris sank to the ocean floor at depth of 55 m or 180 ft. Only one of the victims was visually identifiable. 147 were identified by fingerprint, dental records, and X-ray comparisons. The remaining 81 were identified through DNA tests. Over 15,000 body parts and body tissues were recovered.
  • The case of KAL 007. On September 1, 1983, rocketed at 35,000 feet over Sakhalin Island. Aircraft remains and other debris located on the surface of the Tatar Straits ranging from 656 feet (200 meters) to 1,640 feet (800 meters).

Luggage recovered at surface of sea at determined crash site — 0

Bodies, body parts, body tissues recovered at site — 0

Percentage of recovered bodies to passengers — 0

Percentage of recovered bodies to passengers under the sea - 0

Human remains unrecovered but reported (1991) by Soviet civilian divers in dives starting 7 days from shootdown - one partial torso, 10 human body parts or tissues, possibly from same individual.

Amount of aircraft structural debris—”likened to that of a crash of a Piper Cub.” (Republican Staff Study 1991, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, p. 10.)

The Republican Staff Study report summarizes, “Almost all of KAL 007’s wreckage, luggage, and all the 269 innocent people on it seem to have simply disappeared completely on the night of August 31—September 1, 1983, almost without a trace...

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