When Was A Commercial Flight Last Shot Down? Before MH17, It Was Back In 1988
Thursday's news that a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane had crashed in Ukraine stunned the world, for a number o reasons. Not only is the scope of the tragedy enormous — 295 passengers are believed to have perished in the crash — but it's currently thought that the aircraft was shot down deliberately by forces involved in the Ukrainian conflict. And if so, flight MH17 would the first Boeing 777 passenger plane to be shot down since the 1980s.
The circumstances of the crash are still being confirmed, but both sides have thrown out accusations and denials. Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, posted to his Facebook page that the plane was shot down by the Russian Buk surface-to-air missile system, which the Associated Press confirmed to have seen in the nearby rebel-held town of Snizhne on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a statement: "We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine armed forces did not fire at any targets in the sky." He added, "We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible."
While this type of plane crash isn't unprecedented, jumbo passenger jets being shot down mid-flight is very, very rare.
1988: Iran Air Flight 655
The last time a jumbo jet carrying a comparable number of passengers was shot down was in 1988, when the U.S. fired a surface-to-air missile at Iran Air Flight 655. The plane was flying from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Dubai when it was shot down, killing all 290 passengers onboard. The incident occurred toward the end of the Iraq-Iran War, and the U.S. later claimed that the U.S. Navy had mistaken the commercial aircraft for an Iranian F-14 fighter jet.
1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007
Before the Iran incident, Korean Air Lines Flight 007, also known as KAL 007 or KE007, was shot down by the Soviet SU-15TM fighter jet when the Boeing 747 civilian airliner strayed into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers, including U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald, died in the crash.
When asked about the incident later, the Soviet pilot of the fighter jet said that after the KAL pilots had failed to react to warning shots, he was left with no choice. "My orders were to destroy the intruder," Col. Gennadi Osipovitch told CNN. "I fulfilled my mission." An International Civil Aviation Organization report later stated that Osipovitch failed to follow "ICAO standards and recommended practices related to the interception of civil aircraft."
1978: Korean Air Lines Flight 902
Incredibly, the 1983 incident was not the first time a Korean passenger aircraft was shot down by the Soviet Union. In 1978, Korean Air Lines Flight 902 was also shot down by Soviet fighter jets when it intruded on Soviet airspace and failed to respond to interceptors. Luckily, the pilots of the Korean aircraft were able to make an emergency landing, and only two of the 109 passengers and crew were killed.
1973: Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114
The Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 727 was on a regularly scheduled flight from Tripoli, Libya to Cairo, Egypt when a combination of bad weather and equipment failure caused it to get lost in Israeli-controlled airspace. After refusing to change its flight path or land, two Israeli fighter jets shot it down, killing 108 of the 113 passengers and crew on board.