Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Target Destroyed

I had just gotten home from work, put away some clean clothes and whipped up a quick roasted tomato-garlic pasta dish. Another day near an end as I cast around on the web for something I can read or watch while munching. Sometimes I can indulge a taste of the grotesque or at least unusual during dinner but decided I'd rather not worry about my constitution or moral compass this evening. I'd seen just about every documentary there was on lions, orcas and boa constrictors along with homemade videos of laughing babies, howling beagles and Honey-I'm-Home-From-The-War or Pregnant family surprises Looking around for something, anything old but new, something I at least hadn't seen in a while.

I have to admit I can whip up a fairly quick and tasty plate of pasta so there wasn't much time before dinner started to get cold and I would need that mental cool down from the office. Then it hit me: I'd spool up something from YouTube on Korean Air Lines Flight 007. Back when South Korea had only one international airline, back when long-range flights had to stop in Alaska to make it across the Pacific, back when Reagan was in the White House and the Cold War in full swing, #007 was the regular service between New York City and Seoul with a fuel stop in Anchorage.

The short version is this: a Boeing 747 with 269 passengers and crew on board flew a beeline directly to Seoul from Alaska over Siberia instead of a longer hook-route well to the south over Central Japan to avoid Soviet air space. The beeline route flew first over the Kamchatka Peninsula and then over southern tip of Sakhalin Island, a place few westerners had ever heard of before, alerting the Soviet Air Command to each intrusion. He-said/she-said later, after the second unauthorized incursion missiles were fired that destroyed the airplane and all on board, including 22 children.

The Soviets denied it, then blamed the US for provoking the whole thing as a way to test their defenses. The U.S, of course, went off and the world held its breath, horrified at the loss of life yet far more alarmed that this might be the last straw to a winner-take-all (or what might be left of the world) war between the two superpowers. The investigations that followed pointed to navigational errors (duh), conflicts between Korean top-down societal hierarchy versus cockpit check and balance procedures (did anyone question the captain when clearly someone should have) and the then-standard Western cries of Soviet paranoia and over-reaction. Even today the whole incident may be largely resolved yet still hotly debated concerning the overriding contributing factor(s).

The biggest results from this aerial Titanic? Certain air routes through this part of Siberia are now authorized while Reagan himself ordered the release of then-classified GPS technology to the private sector specifically so mistakes like Korean Air-007 would not happen again. As for the incident itself it is, sadly, largely forgotten save for the families of the victims, aviation aficionados and government watchdogs.

And it all happened on September 1st, 27 years ago today. May they rest in peace.

Gotta go.

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