Mayday (2013) s09e05 Episode Script

Target is Destroyed

NARRATOR: 35,000 feet above the Sea of Japan Korean Air 007.
Unreadable, Unreadable.
The pilots have lost control of their plane.
A 747 with 269 people onboard plunges towards the sea.
Within hours, the story began circulating in Washington that the Soviets had been involved.
This shocking incident escalates tension between two bitter rivals.
It's up to investigators to find the answer before the crash of a passenger jet leads to an all-out war.
- (LOUD CRASHING) - WOMAN: (OVER PA) Emergency descent.
Put the mask over your nose and adjust the headband.
Emergency descent.
Emergency descent.
Put the mask over your nose and adjust the headband.
(SCREAMING) Emergency descent.
Put the mask over your nose and adjust the headband.
It's just after 2:00 in the morning aboard KAL Flight 007.
Korean Air 007, positioned over Nippi.
Estimating Nokka 1826-132.
After a brief layover in Anchorage, a Korean Air Lines 747 is on its way to Seoul.
The marathon flight originated in New York 13 hours ago.
Captain Chun Byung-in has nearly 11 years experience flying for Korean Air Lines.
Before that, he served 10 years in the Korean Air Force.
This leg of the flight is a 6,100km journey over the north Pacific.
Once the plane is in the air, there is very little for the pilots to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, we'll soon be serving breakfast before we land in Gimpo, which will be in about three hours.
Just 15 minutes behind them is the plane's sister flight, KAL 015.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) Korean Air 007.
- Go ahead, Korean Air 015.
- What are you doing? The flight crews chat to help pass the time.
We are experiencing an unexpectedly strong tailwind.
How much of a tailwind? 35 knots from 040.
In an effort to conserve fuel, the crew decides to take the plane to a higher altitude.
Tokyo Centre.
Korean Air 007.
Korean Air 007.
Korean Air 007.
Request climb 350.
Stand by.
Korean Air 007.
Climb and maintain flight level 350.
Korean Air 007.
Climb and maintain flight level 350.
(EXPLOSION) Then, without warning, the plane is out of control.
What happened? Third throttle.
- Landing gear.
- Landing gear.
The crew extends the landing gear in an effort to stop the plane from climbing.
Altitude is going up.
Altitude is going up.
Altitude is going up! Brake is coming out.
I can't descend.
This isn't working.
This isn't working! Engines are critical, sir.
Rapid decompression.
Tokyo Centre.
Korean Air 007.
Korean Air 007.
We are experiencing rapid decompression.
Descend to 10,000.
Korean Air 007.
Radio check on 10048.
Stand by.
Stand by.
Stand by! WOMAN: (OVER PA) Headband.
Emergency descent.
Korean Air 007.
Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and all 269 people onboard have vanished.
Korean Air 015.
Would you attempt to contact Korean Air 007, please, and relay position? All efforts to contact the flight have failed.
Tokyo makes calls to other radar stations in Japan and Korea.
I can not contact Korean Air 007.
A call is even made to a radar facility in the Soviet Union.
There was concern that it had been either forced to land or crashed, or, within hours, the story began circulating in Washington that the Soviets had been involved.
As the world waits for news about the incident .
US military officials make a horrible discovery.
At a top-secret surveillance facility, they have been monitoring Soviet transmissions.
It appears the unthinkable has happened.
At the time of the flight's disappearance, US soldiers heard what they thought was a routine Soviet training mission.
It doesn't seem possible that the Soviets would actually shoot down a passenger plane .
but American officials have little doubt.
The next morning, US Secretary of State George Shultz delivers an unusually blunt statement.
The United States reacts with revulsion to this attack.
The loss of life appears to be heavy.
We can see no excuse whatsoever for this appalling act.
1983 is the height of the Cold War.
Russia and much of eastern Europe are united by Communist ideology.
Ruled with an iron fist, the Soviet Union is locked in a bitter political struggle with the west.
Relations were bad but no-one really knew how bad, how dangerously bad they were.
Initially, Soviet officials deny responsibility for the KAL disaster.
The story coming out of Moscow was that the plane appeared.
We intercepted it, tried to make it stop.
It didn't.
It flew away.
That was the first story.
But soon they reverse course and come clean.
A Soviet fighter jet did in fact shoot the plane down, but they insist the attack was justified.
The Soviet view was that it was on a spy mission, perhaps carrying instruments, cameras, recorders and so forth.
The Soviet Union claims Flight 007 entered highly restricted airspace under orders from the US Government.
But the US insist KAL 007 was a routine passenger flight.
The dispute only heightens political tension.
In terms of an actual shooting war, the closest points that we may have come were in that year, both before and after, when both sides, particularly the Soviet side, though, was expecting an attack.
The KAL disaster would put NATO nuclear disarmament talks in jeopardy.
The Soviets would ultimately walk away.
The nuclear threat is growing.
Under such circumstances, the need for an impartial inquiry is urgent.
The UN calls on the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
ICAO offers a neutral investigation and investigation team that can deal with all parties involved in a neutral way.
Caj Frostell joins the international team of investigators that will try to uncover the truth behind the destruction of Flight 007.
With two superpowers squaring off, they are under pressure to find answers, and find them fast.
KAL 007's flight plan should have kept it well away from Soviet airspace.
Either it was shot down over international waters, or the flight had strayed offcourse.
Figuring out which is the first priority for investigators.
But they face a huge obstacle.
The plane's black boxes are still missing.
The lack of flight recorders, data recorder, cockpit voice recorder - that's significant in an investigation.
The Americans join forces with South Korea and Japan in the search for the crucial devices.
But the three allied nations are not the only ones searching.
(MAN SPEAKS RUSSIAN) TRANSLATION: On September 1, we got an order to go to the place where the Boeing fell and take part in the search for the Boeing 747.
It's a race to find the black boxes.
Each side accuses the other of dirty tricks.
The US did formally complain that the Soviets would either sail across US ships, that they would drop false pingers to deflect listening devices away from the true pinger.
The Soviets claim Flight 007 was flying in Soviet airspace, over Sakhalin Island, when they shot it down.
If that's true, the aircraft was well outside its designated aerial corridor, a route known as R-20.
Investigators get their first hint that if the crew was flying in restricted airspace, they didn't know it.
The coordinates they were reporting put them on course.
The Tokyo air traffic controller who last communicated with Flight 007 tells investigators that all seemed normal.
Korean Air 007.
Positioned over Nippi.
Estimating Nokka 1826-132.
The crew reported they were flying the R-20 route.
But as with every other flight over the Pacific, 007 was beyond Tokyo's radar range.
The controller could only rely on the pilots to verify their position.
Perhaps they were mistaken about where they were.
That possibility becomes more likely when investigators talk to the crew of the Korean Air Lines flight that was just minutes behind Flight 007.
Tell me about the exchange with Flight 007.
The captain of the second flight recounts an odd conversation with the 007 crew.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) We're experiencing an unexpectedly strong tailwind.
How much of a tailwind? 35 knots from 040.
We still have a 15-knot headwind.
Would he be getting a headwind if he was here? It would be almost impossible for one flight to have a tailwind and the other a headwind.
Something doesn't add up.
Frostell gets more information from an unlikely source - the US military.
In a rare move, US officials share highly classified surveillance data from the night of the shoot-down.
A top-secret technology called 'passive radar' can track the movements of every military and civilian plane around the globe.
What it reveals about KAL 007 is stunning.
The plane was way offcourse.
For almost its entire journey across the Pacific, the flight had been drifting north.
By the time it was shot down, Flight 007 was 560 kilometres or 350 miles north of where it should have been, and had already flown in and out of Soviet territory.
The Soviets were telling the truth.
And then it becomes a question of determining why was it offcourse that much? To find the answer, investigators turn their attention to the navigation system onboard the 747.
It's called INS - the inertial navigation system.
The INS that was used on this airliner, like most in that time period, had an accuracy of about half a mile of drift per hour.
Very accurate.
It would get you where you wanted to be.
The system relies on coordinates or waypoints entered into the flight controller.
The way it works is that there is nine waypoints that you put in.
That's the way you program it.
59 degrees.
0 north.
Waypoints are essentially GPS coordinates that also have one-word names, like Bethel, Neeva or Nippi.
Flight 007's INS should have been programmed to find and follow those electronic guideposts to Seoul.
0 north.
Perhaps there was some last-minute change in the flight plan.
Caj Frostell listens to the pre-flight conversation between the crew and the tower in Alaska.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) Korean Air 007, climb and maintain flight level 310.
It was total routine from the beginning to the end.
There was nothing exceptional with the take-off or the taxiing to position, the preparation for the flight.
After leaving Anchorage, the 747 flew out over the Pacific just as planned.
But it never made it to the first waypoint.
Instead, it drifted offcourse for more than five hours.
Hope of uncovering the reasons why begins to fade.
A 10-week effort to recover the flight recorders has turned up nothing.
The search is called off.
With the investigation stalled, Frostell turns to the plane's manufacturers.
FROSTELL: The US and Boeing offered to simulate the route that we knew Korea 007 had flown.
We went over to Boeing at Seattle and Boeing carried out the simulation.
Waypoint number 2 - 59 degrees, 18 Retracing Flight 007's steps in a simulator leaves them with a few possibilities.
One is that a mistake was made while entering the coordinates into the INS.
60 degrees, 47.
1 north.
Normally the co-pilot would insert the waypoints and the captain would check that the correct digits have been put in.
60 degrees.
1 north.
Misprogramming the INS at the gate could have taken the plane over the Soviet Union.
Let's try the flight and heading mode now.
A second, less likely possibility is that after programming the waypoint navigation system, the crew may have failed to turn it on.
After take-off from Anchorage, the aircraft would have used a constant magnetic heading to get to the route.
It's a standard procedure to begin a flight using a magnetic compass heading for direction.
Soon after take-off, pilots must activate the navigation system so it can lock on to the first waypoint.
And if it was forgotten in that constant magnetic heading, it would continue over Soviet airspace.
The magnetic heading would have kept the plane flying in the right direction but along a very different route than the one planned.
Captain Chun was a distinguished pilot with years of experience.
Forgetting to switch the autopilot to INS mode would have been an astonishing error.
At this point, Frostell can only speculate why Flight 007 was offcourse but what's even harder to understand is why the Soviet Union would risk starting a war by shooting a plane down.
OBERG: The Soviets resorted to deadly force to punish this intruder.
It's like shooting the paperboy in your front yard at night because you think he might be breaking into your house.
What could prompt such a response from the Soviets? Investigators get their answer from the US military.
Though Flight 007 may not have been on spy mission that night, another plane was - a US Air Force RC-135.
They were tracking an RC-135, which was doing very, very slow figure eights off the coast with its own listening devices, waiting for a Soviet missile test.
The spy plane was near the Soviet border in the path of the KAL jetliner.
When their paths crossed, the two planes may have been indistinguishable on Soviet radar.
When 007 came in over Soviet airspace, the Soviet Union assumed it's an RC-135.
Along came this intruder and they just fell into the patterns that they had prepared in advance for such an intruder.
MAN: (RUSSIAN ACCENT) Upon violation of state border, approach target and destroy.
But disturbing questions remain.
Did the fighter pilot get close enough to see the target with his own eyes? Did he know it was a passenger jet? Requests to speak to fighter pilot Gennadi Osipovich are refused.
And, for the time being at least, those questions are left unanswered.
In December 1983, less than four months after the disaster, ICAO releases the findings of the investigation.
Though lacking hard evidence, the report concludes Flight 007 strayed into Soviet airspace by accident due to pilot error in operating the navigation system.
I would almost call it the best guess based on all the work and the factual information we had in 1983.
The key to this mystery remains locked inside the plane's black boxes which are assumed lost forever beneath the sea.
In the months following the KAL disaster, unidentifiable human remains wash ashore in northern Japan.
Small pieces of wreckage are also found.
Investigators have no doubt that the plane was completely destroyed.
We don't know where their bodies lie.
There was clothing that washed up on the shore.
Her ID washed up on the shore of Japan.
Of course, getting that ID back was At least we had something.
Like the victims' families, investigators have no clear idea where Flight 007 went down, but there are some people who do.
Top Soviet officials are hiding the fact that one month after the incident, not only did they find the wreckage, they also found the all-important black boxes.
TRANSLATION: It was a big pile of debris.
They took down this pile with their bare hands until they found the black boxes.
There were two of them.
But the Soviets keep the boxes to themselves.
The information is kept locked away .
until nearly 10 years later .
after the turn of the decade brings a jubilant end to the Cold War.
Glasnost ushers in a new spirit of openness in Russia.
Eager to break with the past, the new administration in Moscow decides to go public.
The actual unveiling of the data recorders and black boxes was a total surprise and suddenly this new material promised some real answers.
In 1992, during official ceremonies in Seoul, Russian leader Boris Yeltsin hands over the long-awaited flight recorders.
FROSTELL: I was approached by KGB general and he told me that, "You probably don't know me "but I have had the recorders for 10 years.
"I had them in the safe in my office.
"I knew it was a big international secret.
"It bothered me tremendously.
"Every day when I came to the office and I look at my safe "and I knew the recorders were there.
" He told me, "You may not understand that this is the happiest day in my life.
" Caj Frostell is asked to lead the new team of investigators based in Paris.
And as a clear indication that the times have changed, Vladimir Kofman, a Russian avionics expert, joins the team.
(SPEAKS RUSSIAN) TRANSLATION: At the time, I was working at the Civil Institute of Aviation and was an air crash investigator.
This was an international investigation of a very high level.
Their first task is to make sure the black boxes are authentic.
There was a high suspicion in a lot of quarters that the Russians or the Soviets had tampered with the tapes or had made bogus tapes and so we had to 110% validate the authenticity of the tape.
They had seals on them.
They had, I remember, wax seals on them.
The photographs were taken.
The seals were cut.
Investigators confirm that the CVR handed over by the Russians is the same box that was installed on Flight 007.
They opened them and looked at them and validated the serial numbers and validated the model numbers.
Now that they know they have the right boxes, investigators need to make sure they have not been tampered with.
Suspicion soon arises.
During the cleaning process, they noted that there had been some breaks in the tape and it had been spliced by the Russians.
It is not uncommon for a tape to break during the impact of a crash but distrust of the former Soviet Union runs deep.
First, they examined these areas of the splices where it had broken and they did that under this high-magnification photograph.
One of the techniques that the French had that I hadn't seen before - it wasn't used in the United States - was a photo analysis machine.
They could do this with this optical high magnification.
They could actually see the magnetic waves.
The test confirms that no data was added or removed from the cockpit voice recorder when it was spliced together.
MAN: (ON RECORDING) 565, what was altimeter again? Finally, investigators can listen to the tape, confident that every word is authentic.
What? It's already time for breakfast.
What are you doing? Let's eat later.
But all they hear is idle banter from the crew.
I heard there's a currency exchange at the airport.
- What kind of money? - Dollars to Korean money.
It's in the domestic building.
(INDISTINCT RADIO COMMUNICATION) There is not a word on the tape to suggest the crew was on a spy mission.
OBERG: This is a totally routine conversation.
Either these guys were the most cold-blooded actors and falsifiers ever or they really were totally clueless about where they were.
Sadly, I think the latter is the case.
It seems unlikely that KAL 007 was on a spy mission, but it was caught flying over Soviet territory.
Investigators have long suspected that the crew either misprogrammed their navigation system or left it in the wrong mode .
set on constant magnetic heading.
The flight data recorder finally provides the definitive answer.
FROSTELL: The date that they revealed that the aircraft was on constant magnetic heading from soon after take-off from Anchorage to the end.
There was no deviation whatsoever in the magnetic heading.
The crew of KAL 007 never activated the waypoint navigation system.
Gear up.
Landing gear up.
Now passing 500.
It seems they simply forgot a basic step in their standard flight procedure.
The INS was functioning properly, had been loaded properly and was counting along the route where it was thought it was supposed to be.
But the autopilot was not following the INS commands.
Instead it was following a compass mode.
So it's only telling them where they are supposed to be.
Investigators learn that even though the plane was following a compass heading and not the waypoints, the computer would have continued to display their intended waypoints even though the plane was nowhere near them.
Korean Air 007, positioned over Nippi, estimating Nokka 1826-132.
This may explain why the crew never noticed their mistake.
The crew also didn't notice a key indication that they were badly offcourse.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) We're experiencing an unexpectedly strong tailwind.
How much of a tailwind? 35 knots from 040.
The fact that they were experiencing completely different weather patterns to a plane supposedly minutes behind them should have alerted them to the problem.
Now, there's a point where you see him teetering on the brink of realising something is horribly wrong.
He is talking to the pilot behind him.
And the winds are almost 180 degrees apart and there's a pause.
Somewhere in his mind He's a pilot and he has the instincts.
"This is odd.
This is a clue to something I should look into.
" And hedoesn't.
At that point, he might as well pull the gun out, put it to his head.
It was human error.
A complacent crew in the middle of the night had their flight computer on the wrong setting and then didn't notice they were straying offcourse.
When investigators combine the conversation data from Flight 007 with intercepted Soviet transmissions, they get a detailed picture of what went wrong on September 1, 1983.
The pilots believed they were on course but three hours into the flight, their magnetic heading took them into Soviet airspace over Kamchatka.
The Soviet military have been tracking a US reconnaissance plane.
TRANSLATION: There was a real American spy plane.
It was there.
There were two planes that looked alike when KAL penetrated the border.
The perception was that this was the plane.
As the passengers sleep through their long journey, the Soviet scramble fighters to intercept the plane.
The identity of the plane was just not known.
The clues that it was a lost civilian airliner, well, might have been there.
The clues that it was a 135 didn't add up but the Soviets involved didn't have time to think it through.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) Target travelling at high speed and approaching border.
But the fighters are not fast enough.
The plane leaves Soviet airspace and continues along its heading to Seoul.
They figured that they'd just been spooked but that was all over.
Unfortunately, for everyone involved, it wasn't.
The airliner is just seconds from flying over the island of Sakhalin.
So Sakhalin was prepared.
KAL Flight 007 enters Soviet airspace for the second time.
Ladies and gentlemen, we'll soon be serving breakfast before we land in Gimpo which will be in about three hours.
MAN: (OVER RADIO) Target travelling at high speed and approaching border.
Target is on your heading.
I can see it both visually and on the screen.
Major Gennadi Osipovich, the lead fighter, makes visual contact with Flight 007.
Give warning burst with cannon.
But the warning shots go unnoticed.
Take up position for attack.
Approach target and destroy.
Locked on.
Executed launch.
Target is destroyed.
The fighter pilot believed the 747 was an enemy spy plane.
It takes nearly a decade after he shot down KAL 007 for that pilot to tell his side of the story.
Investigators have long wondered what Major Gennadi Osipovich saw and did after he was ordered to intercept an intruding aircraft in 1983.
After nearly 10 years, and the collapse of the Communist regime, he finally tells his side of the story.
TRANSLATION: I saw the plane.
It did look like a civilian plane because there was a flashing light on its tail and one on the top but you can disguise any plane like this.
You can put a flashing light on and you've got a civilian plane so I did not have any thoughts about this.
Give warning burst with cannon.
(CANNONFIRE) When warning shots are fired, they usually include tracers which are like flares and are easily seen.
However, Osipovich had no tracers loaded in his cannon.
They are supposed to load tracers.
Just no-one had shipped them any for the last six months so they weren't there.
But even without the tracers, Osipovich thinks the 747 crew should have seen him.
As I caught up with them, I was flying like this.
And he was flying like that.
How could he not turn around and see me? I was flying with lights.
Everything was according to protocol.
He should have seen me.
And then a horrible coincidence seals the fate of 269 people aboard the flight.
Korean Air 007.
Request climb 350.
Korean Air 007, climb and maintain flight level 350.
Like a car going uphill, a climbing plane slows down.
But to the fighter pilot following the 747, this is interpreted as an evasive manoeuvre.
He decreased his speed, so that I could either pass him or fall.
One of the two.
So that's how I knew that he's an enemy intruder.
My only thought was to catch and stop.
This is what we were trained to do.
I fell a little behind him and banked down, made a snake manoeuvre, put some distance between us.
Because otherwise the rockets would not have locked on.
He was running out of time because the airliner was approaching fast.
Take up position for attack.
Locked on.
Executed launch.
Osipovich fires two air to air missiles.
They travel 2,000 kilometres an hour towards the jetliner.
One of them explodes near the tail, damaging vital controls and hydraulic lines.
The warhead also tears a hole in the fuselage, causing a rapid decompression in the cabin.
I saw the first explosion right under the tail, and that's it - the lights of the trespasser went out and I went home.
WOMAN: (OVER PA) Emergency descent.
Put the mask over your nose and adjust the headband.
The crew managed to fly the crippled plane for several minutes.
FROSTELL: Immediately after the missile impact, the aircraft climbed to flight level 380.
And then it descended about 5,000 feet per minute.
The stricken jetliner plummeted towards the Sea of Japan.
With most of its passengers likely still conscious.
(SCREAMING) That's when the recording stopped.
Our determination was that the air frame probably broke up at that point.
To this day, Gennadi Osipovich is convinced he shot down a spy plane.
I knew they wouldn't order me to intercept if it was a civilian plane or cargo plane.
Only if it was a trespasser.
It was clear that he was living with what he had done and what he had done in order for him to live and to sleep was to believe that it was a spy plane.
There were no passengers onboard, that he had not killed 269 people.
And that's the way he wants to believe it and I'm not going to blame him for wanting to believe that.
In 1993, Caj Frostell has the evidence that he sorely lacked when he issued his first report.
He can prove how the Korean pilots blundered and ended up offcourse and how the Soviet pilot interpreted the situation.
The destruction of Flight 007 is ruled an accident.
Frostell recommends that all passenger planes be equipped with a clear indicator that the autopilot is in heading mode.
The tragedy of 007 is that it didn't have to happen.
It was not inevitable.
It was a series of accidents, a series of misunderstandings, a series of bad decisions that had been primed ahead of time.
FROSTELL: Korean 007 has had a great effect on my life.
It has been close to my heart.
That has been very sad for me.
My sympathy and condolences all these years have gone out to the families.