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Eastern Order of Battle

Korean Air Lines Flight 902 incident in 1978

(Text source: Sukhoi Interceptors, Yefim Gordon Midland)

Soviet Su-15 Flagon at Afrikanda

Soviet 431st Fighter Air Regiment PVO’s Su-15 'Flagon' at Afrikanda airport. Photo: P.Baishev

On 20th April 1978 at 20:54 Moscow time, the radar pickets of the 10th Independent Air Defense Army detected an aircraft 380 km (236 miles) north of Rybachiy Peninsula, flying at 10,000 m (32,800 ft) and heading towards Soviet territorial waters at about 900 km/h (559 mph). When the target approached the 100-km territorial waters strip, at 21:11 the officer of the day at the 10th Independent PVO Army headquarters ordered a scramble. Since the unit based nearest to the coast (941st Fighter Air Regiment PVO) was re-equipping with new MiG-23M ‘Flogger-B’ aircraft and was not operational for the time being.

The mission fell to the 431st Fighter Air Regiment PVO at Afrikanda AB (Arkhangelsk Region), and a Su-15TM ‘Flagon-F’ piloted by Capt. A. I. Bosov took off to intercept the target. After being directed towards the unknown aircraft in head-on mode by Ground-controlled interception control the pilot reported seeing the target on his radar display, executed a port turn and started closing in on the target. Coming within visual identification range, Bosov reported it was a four-engined Boeing 747 but he could not make out the insignia - they were either Japanese, Chinese or Korean.

Korean Air Lines’ Boeing 707

Korean Air Lines’ Boeing 707-321B HL7429, photographed at Osaka International Airport, 1 August 1977. (항공사고/공대생의 일상블로그)

This was a Korean Air Lines Boeing 707-321 BA-H registered HL7429 (c/n 19363, fuselage number 623) bound from Paris-Orly to Seoul on flight KE902. Trouble first arose in the vicinity of Iceland, when atmospheric conditions prevented the aircraft from communicating with the corresponding ground station. Approximately over Greenland, and following the instructions of the navigator, the Boeing 707 inexplicably initiated a turn of 112 degrees, heading in a south-easterly direction towards the USSR. A while later the pilot, Captain Kim Chang Kyu, sensed something was amiss by the rather obvious fact that the sun was on the wrong side of the aircraft!

The full truth about this incident remains unknown to this day. The Boeing entered Soviet airspace over the Kola Peninsula, which abounds in military installations, and was thus assumed to be a NATO reconnaissance aircraft. Capt. Bosov was instructed to force the intruder down at a Soviet airfield, which he tried to do, making two passes along the 707's port side 50-60 m (165-200 ft) away to a point ahead of the flight deck and rocking the wings. Yet the South Korean crew ignored these signals. Meanwhile, after analyzing the target's track plotted by Air Defense radars, the 10th Independent Air Defense Army HQ decided the 707 was pressing on towards the Finnish border, which was only five minutes away, in an attempt to escape and ordered the airliner shot down. At 21:42 the fighter pilot fired a single R-98MR 'AA-3 Anab' semi-active radar homing medium-range missile, reporting an explosion and saying that the target was losing altitude: Bosov was about to fire a second missile but lost target lock-on because the Boeing was descending sharply.

In the meantime, a steady exchange of information was going on between PVO command centers at all channels. The PVO Commander-in-Chief was belatedly informed that the target was a civil airliner; hence the C-in-C's order not to shoot the intruder down but to force it down in one piece reached the lower local command post too late, when the KAL Boeing 707 airliner was already under attack. The explosion tore away the Boeing's port wingtip and aileron, knocked out the No.1 engine and apparently punctured the fuselage, causing a decompression. The crew initiated an emergency descent, causing the Soviet Air Defense radar station to briefly lose sight of the aircraft.

By then, apart from Bosov's Su-15TM ‘Flagon-F’, five other aircraft had scrambled to intercept the intruder - two Yak-28Ps from Monchegorsk, one MiG-25P from Letneozyorsk, a Su-15TM from Poduzhemye AB and a further Su-15TM ‘Flagon-F’ from Afrikanda AB. When the target vanished from the radarscopes, a further Yak-28P ‘Firebar’, a MiG-25P ‘Foxbat-A’ and three Su-15TMs from the same bases joined the hunt.

A 5th Air Defense Division’s 265th Fighter Air Regiment’s Su-15TM ‘Flagon-F’ from Poduzhemye airport even fired a missile at a slow-flying target at 5,000 m (16,400 ft) -which later turned out to be nothing more than a cloud of honeycomb filler fragments from the Boeing 707's damaged wing.

Soviet Su-15 Flagon at Afrikanda Soviet Su-15 Flagon at Afrikanda

Su-15 ‘Flagon’ pilots of the 431st Fighter Air Regiment PVO at Afrikanda airport. Photo:

The damaged airliner circled at low altitude near Loukhi settlement near Kem town, where it was again detected and tracked by Air Defense's radars and the nearest interceptor was directed to the scene. Since the Su-15's radar was not much use against a low-flying target, the pilots used your eye. At 22:45 Capt. Keferov of the 265th IAP spotted the intruder flying at 800 m (2,620 ft) near Loukhi; 12 minutes later the target was spotted by another 265th IAP pilot, Maj. A. A. Ghenberg. Together they gave signals to the crew, trying to force the jet to follow them; the airliner ignored the signals, landing on the frozen Lake Korpijarvi 5 km (3.1 miles) south-west of Loukhi.

Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR
Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR
Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR

Korean Air Lines Boeing 707-321 airliner on the Lake Korpijarvi USSR in 1978

A R-98MT 'AA-3 Anab' medium-range and a R-60 'AA-8 Aphid' short-range lightweight infrared homing air-to-air missile at Afrikanda airport.

Weapon officer and a R-98MT 'AA-3 Anab' medium-range and a R-60 'AA-8 Aphid' short-range lightweight infrared homing air-to-air missile at Afrikanda airport.

Afrikanda airport

Two Soviet soldier of the 431st Fighter Air Regiment PVO evaluate the target photos at Afrikanda airport.

Of the 109 occupants, two passengers were killed (allegedly by fragments of the damaged engine) and 13 people were injured. The crew and passengers of the Korean Boeing 707 were detained by the Soviet authorities but subsequently released; the airliner, which was declared a write-off, was recovered from the scene and taken to Moscow for examination.

Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR
Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR
Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR
Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR
Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 in USSR

Text source: Sukhoi Interceptors, Yefim Gordon Midland

Soviet Union, USSR, Soviet Air Forces, Sovier AIR Defense, VVS, PVO, Cold War, Leningrad Military District, 10th Independent Air Defence Army, 21st Air Defense Corps, Severomorsk, 941st Fighter Air Regiment PVO, Kilpajarvi, MiG-23M Flogger-B, 174th Guard Fighter Air Regiment PVO, Monchegorsk, Yak-28P Firebar, MiG-19 Farmer, 431st Fighter Air Regiment PVO, Afrikanda, Su-15TM Flagon-F, MiG-19S Farmer-C, 5th Air Defense Division, Petrozavodsk, 265th Fighter Air Regiment PVO, Poduzhemye, Su-15TM Flagon-F, 23rd Air Defense Division, Arkhangelsk, 518th Fighter Air Regiment PVO, Talagi, Tu-128 Fiddler, 524th Fighter Air Regiment PVO, Letneozerskiy/Obozersk, MiG-25P Foxbat-A, Mikoyan and Gurevich, Sukhoi, Yakovlev, Tupolev,

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Союз Советских Социалистических Республик, СССР, Военно-воздушные силы, Войска ПВО СССР, 10-й отдельной армии ПВО, 10-й ОА ПВО, 21-я корпус ПВО, 21-я кПВО, Североморск, 941-й истребительный авиационный полк ПВО, 941-й ИАП ПВО, Килп-Явр, МиГ-23М, 174-й гвардейский Краснознаменный Печенгский ИАП, 174-й гв.ИАП ПВО, Мончегорск, Як-28П, 431-й Краснознамённый истребительный авиационный полк ПВО, 431-й ИАП ПВО, Африканда, Су-15ТМ, 5-я дивизия ПВО, 5-я дПВО, Петрозаводск, 265-й истребительный авиационный полк ПВО, 265-й ИАП ПВО, Подужемье, Кемь, Карелия, Су-15ТМ, 23-я дивизия ПВО, 23-я дПВО, Архангельск, 518-й Берлинский Краснознгамённый ордена Суворова 3-й стёпени авиационный полк ПВО, 518-й ИАП ПВО, Талаги, Архангельск, Ту-128, 524-й истребительный авиационный полк ПВО, 524-й ИАП ПВО, Летнеозерский, Обозерский, Миг-25П, 4-я дивизия ПВО, Микоян и Гуревич, Сухой, Яковлев, Туполев