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Korean Airliner Shot Down By Soviets

By Patrick Mondout

On April 20, 1978 Korean Air Flight 902 crossing the Atlantic from Paris to Seoul strayed over Soviet territory and was fired upon by a Su-15 fighter. One of the two missiles exploded near the left wing and two of the 97 passengers were killed in the resulting rapid decompression. The Boeing 707 dove into the clouds and lost the Su-15 and made an emergency landing on the frozen lake of Korpijärvi some 280 miles south of Murmansk.


Boeing 707-321C

A Guyana Airlines 707-321C similar to the one involved in this crash, as seen in Tucson, March 1986.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at


All other passengers and crew were released by the Soviets but the crew was held until they admitted violating Soviet airspace.

This would not be the last time a Soviet fighter fired upon a Korean airliner.

Source: World Book Encyclopedia, 1979 Yearbook; page 369.

Korean Airlines (KAL) 902 at a Glance
AirlineKorean Airlines (KAL)
DateApril 20, 1978
Flight number902
Registration NumberHL7429
Crew Fatalities0 of 12
Passenger Fatalities2 of 97
Total Fatalities2 of 109

Air Safety References:
Bartelski, Jan. Disasters in the Air: Mysterious Air Disasters Explained. Airlife Publishing: England, 2001.
Beaty, David. The Naked Pilot: The Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents. Airlife Publishing: England, 1996.
Cushing, Steven. Fatal Words: Communication Clashes and Aircraft Crashes University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1997.
Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives-Why Air Safety Is No Accident. Motorbooks International, 1997.
Gero, David. Aviation Disasters: The World's Major Civil Airliner Crashes Since 1950. Sutton, 2003.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 1). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1995.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 2). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1996.
Job, Macarthur. Air Disaster (Volume 3). Aerospace Publications: Fyshwick, Australia, 1999.
Krause, Shari Stamford. Aircraft Safety: Accident Investigations, Analyses & Applications. McGraw Hill, New York, 1996.
Macpherson, Malcolm. The Black Box : All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts Of In-flight Accidents. New York: William Morrow, 1998.
Macpherson, Malcolm. On a Wing and a Prayer: Interviews with Airline Disaster Survivors. Perennial, 2002.
Owen, David. Air Accident Investigation, 2nd Edition. Motorbooks International, 2002.
Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! - Crisis on the Flight Deck, 2nd Edition. Airlife Publishing, England, 2003.
Walters, James M. Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.


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Airline: Korean Airlines (KAL)

Location: Kola Peninsula, USSR

Aircraft: Boeing 707-321B

Date: April 20, 1978

Total Fatalities: 2 of 109

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