While news is still developing over the details surrounding the apparent shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine, the details beginning to emerge bring back memories of a similar tragedy over 30 years ago.
Early Thursday morning, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777, was shot down at the Russian-Ukrainian border. The plane crashed in the eastern Ukraine where several other planes have also been shot down. The plane was reportedly flying around 35,000 feet along an established route. The plane carried 280 passengers and 15 crew with 23 Americans aboard.
Initial reports appear to indicate the plane may have been shot down by pro-Russian separatists using Russian weaponry. However, the Russian news agency RT is claiming the plane was actually shot down by the Ukrainians. Instead, RT is postulating that the attack may have been an attempt to kill Russian President Vladmir Putin. The news agency says the Malaysian plane was traveling along a nearly identical route taken by Putin’s jet a short time earlier.
“’I can say that Putin’s plane and the Malaysian Boeing intersected at the same point and the same echelon. That was close to Warsaw on 330-m echelon at the height of 10,100 meters. The presidential jet was there at 16:21 Moscow time and the Malaysian aircraft – 15:44 Moscow time,’ a source told the news agency on condition of anonymity.
“’The contours of the aircrafts are similar, linear dimensions are also very similar, as for the coloring, at a quite remote distance they are almost identical’, the source added.”
Regardless of who is ultimately found to be responsible, the shooting bears some interesting similarities with another civilian airliners shot down in the same part of the world during the cold war.
On Sept 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down after reportedly accidently flying into Russian airspace, resulting in the death of all 269 passengers aboard. Among the 61 Americans on the flight was Rep. Larry McDonald, a Democrat from Georgia who was the chairman of the John Birch Society as well as one of the fiercest anti-Communist in the House of Representatives.
In the days following the attack, President Ronald Reagan issued a scathing rebuke against the Soviet Union calling the attack a “crime against humanity,” and decried “the savagery of their crime.” Reagan noted the attack was far from an isolated incident.
“This is not the first time the Soviet Union has shot at and hit a civilian airliner when it over flew its territory. In another tragic incident in 1978, the Soviets also shot down an unarmed civilian airliner after having positively identified it as such,” Reagan said. “In that instance, the Soviet interceptor pilot clearly identified the civilian markings on the side of the aircraft, repeatedly questioned the order to fire on a civilian airliner, and was ordered to shoot it down anyway. The aircraft was hit with a missile and made a crash landing. Several innocent people lost their lives in this attack, killed by shrapnel from the blast of a Soviet missile.”
The Soviet Union justified the shoot down saying the plane was on a spy mission. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union it was revealed Russian officials knew it was a passenger airliner.