Civilian aircraft shot down, it has happened before.

By David Hopwood | January 12, 2020

Sadly, it seems like there will always be a risk of some trigger-happy officer in the military who either in panic, patriotic fervour, genuine error might fire at a civilian aircraft.

The latest in this long and tragic history is the Ukrainian 737 shot down by the Iranian armed forces near Tehran on Wednesday, killing 176. It seems likely that the official investigation will simply confirm some catastrophic event. A central issue was the failure by Iran to close the airspace during a time of high tension. An anxious military combined with an easy target resulted in the tragedy, offence being added to injury by clumsy attempts to deny responsibility.

In July 1988, Iran was the victim of tragedy when the USS Vincennes, an American missile cruiser, shot down an Iran Air A300 over the Straits of Hormuz, mistaking the airliner for a hostile F-14. All 290 people on board lost their lives.

The USS Vincennes c. Wiki commons

Missiles are one thing; actually being shot down by a fighter is another. In one of the most infamous episodes, a Soviet SU-15 fighter shot down Korean Airlines KAL 007 on the way from New York to Seoul on September 1st, 1983 over Sakhalin Island in the far East of Russia. The Soviet Union claimed the aircraft was on a spying mission, which the US vehemently denied. The flight data recorders were never found.

We remember with sadness all those innocents who lost their lives in these and too many other incidents.

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‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’


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  • “The flight data recorders were never found.”

    “Never” is too strong a word here, as it turns out Soviet authorities recovered the black boxes immediately after the crash, but they were heavily damaged. They were returned to the ICAO by Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, citation

    The cause of the navigational error was a switch position in the autopilot: it was on HDG instead of INS (which would now be called NAV or RNAV.)

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