LETíS ASK PUTIN
Bert Schlossberg, an American-born Israeli scholar, has spent ten years trying to find out what happened to the 269 passengers and crew on KAL Flight 007, the Korean airliner that was forced down by a Soviet fighter plane off the coast of Sakhalin on August 31, 1983. Schlossberg claims that almost everyone survived when the jet, only slightly damaged by a Soviet rocket, made a controlled soft landing in the ocean near Sakhalin, a large Soviet island north of Japan.
After chasing the 747, which had gotten off course and had overflown Kamchatka, the fighter pilot obeyed orders to shoot it down. After firing two missiles, he reported, "The target is destroyed." But he was wrong. According to new evidence found by Schlossberg, the heat-seeking missile that was supposed to have hit one of the engines missed completely. Schlossberg said that was clear from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. The latter shows the co-pilot telling the captain that all engines were operating normally.
Schlossberg says that the second missile made a 1.75 square-foot hole in the rear of the passenger cabin. He believes that the missile exploded some distance from the plane, and that the hole was made by shrapnel. This caused a severe decompression. Schlossberg says the hole was too small for anyone to be sucked out, but limbs and clothing found by divers suggest that he could be wrong about that. Oxygen masks were deployed and Capt. Chun was able to bring the plane down in a controlled spiral from 35,000 feet, reducing his speed as he got lower. It took about 12 minutes to get down to 1000 feet, where he went off the radar screen. This suggests that he had a choice of ditching it in the ocean near land or landing on Sakhalin, but the plane would not have been welcomed there. Soviet officers were still ordering that it be shot down when it was below 1000 feet and over Moneron, a tiny island 26 miles west of Sakhalin.
Schlossberg says that Soviet vessels were alongside the plane within thirty minutes after it landed in the water. He believes that it remained afloat and that 256 survivors, including Congressman Larry McDonald, a Georgia Democrat, famous for his anti-communist views, were rescued and sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps. This was propounded in 1991 by Avram Shifrin, and others. Shifrin, a former Soviet official who started an organization in Israel called The Research Center for Prisons and Forced Labor Concentration Camps, claimed to have information that McDonald had been sent to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, and others had been sent to labor camps.
Schlossberg cites evidence that after the survivors and most of their luggage were removed, the 747 sank and was towed to more shallow water where it was blown up to give the appearance that it was severely damaged when it hit the water. Three different groups of divers inspected the wreckage. They were struck by the absence of bodies and luggage. They found body parts of only 13 people.
No bodies or even life jackets had been found on the surface and very few personal effects except shoes washed up on shores. That may be because everyone removed their shoes in preparation for sliding down the emergency chutes. In the November 1991 Reader's Digest, John Barron reported that the Soviets launched rescue operations immediately and that the military soon radioed Moscow that they had downed a civilian plane and that some of the passengers were Americans. That means that they had either rescued survivors or found ID's.
Izvestia, the government paper, advanced two explanations for the missing 256 bodies, neither of which is plausible. One was that crabs had eaten them, and the other was that the plane had hit the water with such force that all the bodies were shredded.
In December 1991, Senator Jesse Helms sent a letter to President Boris Yeltsin, requesting, among other things, information about survivors from KAL 007. He mentioned Congressman McDonald by name. If there were no survivors, he wanted to know what had become of the bodies. We still don't have the answers.
Now that President Bush has developed a rapport with President Vladimir Putin, who has no responsibility for what occurred in 1983, he ought to be able to get President Putin to answer the Helms questions. Larry McDonald was only 48. He and many other American citizens who were on KAL Flight 007 may still be alive in Russian prisons or prison camps today. Our government owes it to them to find them or their remains.
Reed Irvine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org