Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (also known as KAL007 and KE007[note 2]) was a scheduled Korean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage. On September 1, 1983, the airliner serving the flight was shot down by a Soviet Su-15interceptor near Moneron Island, west of Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Japan. The interceptor’s pilot was Major Gennadi Osipovich. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, representative from Georgia in the United States House of Representatives. The aircraft was en route from Anchorage to Seoul when it flew through prohibited Soviet airspace around the time of a U.S. reconnaissance mission.
The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted the shoot down, claiming that the aircraft was on a spy mission. The Politburo said it was a deliberate provocation by the United States to test the Soviet Union’s military preparedness, or even to provoke a war. The White House accused the Soviet Union of obstructing search and rescue operations. The Soviet military suppressed evidence sought by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation, notably the flight data recorders, which were eventually released eight years later after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The incident was one of the tensest moments of the Cold War and resulted in an escalation of anti-Soviet sentiment, particularly in the United States. The opposing points of view on the incident were never fully resolved. Consequently, several groups continue to dispute official reports and offer alternative theories of the event. The subsequent release of KAL 007 flight transcripts and flight recorders by the Russian Federation has clarified some details.
As a result of the incident, the United States altered tracking procedures for aircraft departing Alaska. The interface of the autopilot used on airliners was redesigned to make it more ergonomic. In addition, the event was one of the most important single events that prompted the Reagan Administration to allow worldwide access to the United States military’s GNSS system, which was classified at the time. Today this system is widely known as GPS.