Contrary to all known airliner crashes at sea, there were no bodies, body parts or tissues, luggage or life jackets on found on the surface of the waters after the downing of KAL 007—no one, either dead or alive. Some commentators opined, and many people believed, that the bodies would be found trapped in their watery tomb, the remains of KAL 007 on the bottom of the Tatar Straits. What the world did not know until eight years after the shootdown was that Russian civilian divers had been ordered down just 15 days after the shootdown to examine the aircraft. In 1991, and now once again, they have begun telling their story—there were no people found in or around Korean Air Lines Flight 007.
Russian deep sea diver Vadim Kondrabaev, one of the civilian divers from Murmansk was brought to explore the wreckage of KAL 007 in 1983 gave an interview to the Russian magazine Itogi published on October 1, 2000. This interview is significant in supporting a number of points made in the book Rescue 007. Kondrabaev is one of three divers from Murmansk referenced on page 89 in a quote from the Izvestia series about KAL 007.
He points out that after he and the other civilian divers were brought to Sakhalin on September 10, 1983, they were kept there until "the end of September." "...They literally forgot about us for several days." When they did get to the wreckage, they were surprised to find neither bodies nor luggage. "We worked beneath the water almost a month for 5 hours a day and didn't find one suitcase, not even a handle from them." He states that it was difficult to verify that what they were finding was more than rubbish and parts deliberately strewn around. He did retrieve a small Bible which he found in the pocket of a raincoat and kept that along with a few other souvenirs.
This interview is valuable as another recent Russian acknowledgement of the mystery of the missing bodies. It also corroborates points in the Republican Staff Study about attempts at deceiving Japanese and Western rescue efforts.
Former Soviet Commander Confirms Mystery of Missing Bodies
Lieutenant General Valeri Kamenski, presently Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force and formerly Chief of Staff of the Soviet Far East Military District Air Defense Force, indicated in a recent interview that “it is still a mystery what happened to the bodies of the crew and passengers of KAL 007.”
Kamenski was directly involved in the 1983 shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on August 31, 1983.
Prior to this interview, Russian and Soviet sources had implied that there was no mystery about the fact that no bodies were found following the destruction of the plane. Various reasons had always been given for this such as the bodies being consumed by giant crabs (bones and all!), being pulverized upon crashing into the ocean (every air tragedy since then, including the space shuttle Challenger, has produced many intact bodies,and/or body parts and tissues) or sucked out of the plane by explosive decompression.
In an interview given 5 months later than the diver Kondrabev interview, Gen. Kamenski confirmed the mystery of the missing bodies. In an article dated March 15, 2001, in the Ukrainian weekly, “Facti I Kommentari”, General Kamenski spoke about the mystery. To quote from the article, “It is still a mystery what happened to the bodies of the crew and passengers on the plane. According to one theory, right after the rocket’s detonation, the nose and tail section of the jumbo fell off [completely hypothetical and contradicted by the recovered Black Box tapes -B.S.] and the mid fuselage became a sort of wind tunnel so the people were swept through it and scattered over the surface of the ocean. Yet in this case, some of the bodies were [ought—ed.] to have been found during the search operations in the area. The question of what actually happened to the people has not been given a distinct answer.”
(Kamenski, direct superior to General Kornukov, “tactical” commander during the shootdown, may have been the one to order the jumbo jet shot down over international waters. In transcripts turned over by the Russian government to the United Nations, Gen. Kornukov is recorded as responding to Gen. Kamenski at 5:53am Sakhalin time “…simply destroy [it] even if it is over neutral waters? Are the orders to destroy it over neutral waters? Oh, well.”)
Here is diver Vadim Kondrabaev's account:
Vadim Kondrabaev: "Secret of the Empty Airplane"
The tragedy in the skies over the Black Sea unwillingly reminded one of the events that occurred on 1 September 1983 in the Far East, when a Soviet Su-15 fighter shot down a KAL airlines Boeing 747 airplane, which was flying the New York - Seoul trip, that had intruded into the air space of the USSR with two air-to-air missiles. The airplane, on board which according to official data were 269 passengers and crew, fell into the Tatar straits from an altitude of 11,000 meters. The bodies of the dead, if one is to believe the official announcements of the Soviet side, never were found.
The deep sea diver Vadim Kondrabaev, who has kept quiet for 18 years, was one of the first lowered to the destroyed Boeing, which was laying at a depth of 174 meters. He arrived at a meeting with Itogi journalists with a small, black bag. There were several curiosities in it: things from the Boeing itself. The diver proudly showed us forks and spoons with the KAL symbol, golf balls and the most important relics: a large ancient Egyptian cross - a symbol of eternal life - and a small bible in English, which he found on the bottom in the pocket of a rain coat which was tangled in the airplanes wreckage.
- Did you understand what you were risking when you collected these "souvenirs" on the bottom?
- The desire to keep some kind of memory about our secret mission was stronger than fear of the KGB. We well understood that we could be brought to trial for such escapades. When the tough times began, I wanted to sell my collection in Moscow. Having gone around to opening days and markets and not finding any buyers, I decided to shrug it off. By the way, I don't regret that some kind of memory remained.
- How did you turn up at the place of the Boeing's impact?
- On the night of 10 September 1983, when my colleagues and I were working on the diving and rescue craft "Sprut" in the Barents Sea, an aircraft carrier approached us. They reported from it that myself and 16 other divers were to fly immediately to Kaspiy. However, instead of Kaspiy, we landed in Moscow at Chkalovskiy airport. Having been refueled, our military transport airplane once again took off and assumed a heading unknown to us. We landed in Yuzho-Sakhalinsk. From there by buses to Kholmsk - to the Arktikmorneftegazrazvedka diving base. Then they literally forgot about us for several days and only at the end of September brought us to the drilling ship "Mikhail Mirchinko." There was a diving complex there, which also became our home for a whole month.
- Didn't you know what you would be doing?
- Of course not. No one had explained anything to us. Only having started training in the pressure chamber did we find out that we would be diving to the destroyed South Korean Boeing. They showed us an old, shabby pocket calendar with ((Korean)) characters, on which this very Boeing was rendered.
- Did you start the dives right away?
- At first they lowered a video camera from the Mirchinko to the bottom, and then they decided to use a diving bell. where one of the divers looked to the right, a second to the left, and a third and fourth below, directly beneath the bell. On the third day of the dives we noticed a heap of wreckage on the bottom. We were ordered to leave the bell and begin to collect all of this debris. There were especially interested in radio parts, the remains of equipment, documents, in general, everything that was there. Everything was placed into a basket, welded with metal bars and attached to the bell.
- Did you see the airplane with your own eyes?
- It is difficult to call this an airplane. The largest wreckage was the size of not more than a square meter. Despite the fact that on board, as they say, was a large number of passengers, we didn't find one body, with the exception only of one hand in a black glove that had been torn off from the arm. The only fact testifying to the fact that there was a destroyed airplane laying on the bottom was the a landing gear strut.
We found very many things - ragged clothing, cosmetics, tape players, children's toys, spoons, forks, and rescue equipment with the KAL trade mark. But were weren't able to explain some finds. For example, a completely new powder box was found in a box, but with a cracked mirror, as if someone had broken it specially in advance.
- And did you find the "black boxes"?
- Somewhere on the fifth day of the search we discovered a recording tape. We went along it and discovered that it was coming out of some kind of box. We reported to above. It really started! The order came to immediately to lift this box. Later they explained to us that we had found one of four of the recorders on board the airplane. Incidentally, somewhere in the bowels of the special services undoubtedly is the film taken by us: from the very beginning we were recording everything that was happening with a video camera, which was concealed in a homemade sealed box. However, someone squealed on us and one evening they called all the "cinematographers" into a special section on board the ship. There a serious man in civilian clothes asked everything be given up to him at once and to take no more pictures.
- Are you sure that you were working on that very Boeing?
- It has been difficult to believe up to now for the reason that, of the people who supposedly were on board, something should have remained. We worked beneath the water almost a month for 5 hours a day and didn't find one suitcase, not even a handle from them. After all there is baggage on any air trip. We either were able to work on the remains, which already had been filtered by the special services, or, what I also do not discount, there were no passengers at all on the airplane, and they stuffed the cabin with rubbish.
- You don't rule out that special service divers were able to do thorough work on the bottom before you?
- It is quite possible that several mini submarines with military divers went down to the Boeing even before us and collected everything, and scattered the remaining parts of the destroyed liner about or left them there where they were needed, and afterwards called us as a smoke screen (see KAL 007: The Russian Explanations for the Missing Bodies- B.S.). Then, you know, both the Japanese and the Americans were hunting for this airplane. The latter even listened in on our conversations under water with the help of special radio buoys, which were dropped from helicopters and combat ships which were traveling back and forth not far away. Therefore, the authorities always were repeating to us not to be chattering beneath the water. It happened, we were working and here their acoustics via the radio buoy give such a squeak that the eardrums almost burst. Then the command followed to surface. While we were resting, our military forced back the American ships, and one day they resorted to cunning. They fashioned some sort of a similar "black box" and placed it at a depth of 600 meters several kilometers away from the "Mirchinko." They sent combat boats and fishing trawlers into that region for show. We hear on the radio - the Americans are screaming to the whole world that they have found the Boeing. Helicopters began to arrive on their aircraft carrier with journalists and senators, and one helicopter even crashed in the water.
- So where might the bodies of the dead passengers be anyhow?
- I've also thought about this question. You know, even if fishing trawlers were used to collect the remains from the Boeing, then after a month would be simply impossible to collect the bodies of all the dead. True, at the end of the expedition one of the military personnel on the "Mirchinko," having noted that I am very curious and want nonetheless to find the answer to the question, just where are the corpses, said: "The crabs ate them." Perhaps it was this way - even before the first dive we noticed a huge number of crabs on the bottom.
- When did your mission end?
- On 29 October. They paid us 200 - 250 rubles each for the work and asked us not to talk about it much. It has come to the point of absurdity. We fly to Moscow, and there aren't enough tickets for the trip to Murmansk. It turns out some have to fly on various trips. Here our group leader goes up to some airport head and says: "Well, the guys were working on the Korean Boeing, we should send them all home together, else they will start drinking one at a time and start jabbering away." The tickets were found immediately.
- Did they award you somehow for the work?
- In 1984 there was an order of navy commander-in-chief Admiral Gorshkov issued, in which he expressed his personal gratitude to all our team. They even entered this gratitude for me in my service record.
Stepan Krivosheev held the interview
Source: 00.10.01, Itogi
- KAL 007 on the Water: a sighting
- A Tracking of KAL 007 to Water: An Interview
- The Soviet/ U.S naval confrontation
- KAL 007: The Russian Explanations for the Missing Bodies
- The Soviet's Deception of the Location of KAL 007's Water Landing
- Soviet deception in the search for KAL 007: a seaman's testimony
- KAL 007: Soviet stalk, shoot down, and rescue mission orders transcripts