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The Shootdown



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The Shootdown

Cast of Characters

Kornukov—General Anatoli Kornukov, Commander Sokol Air Force Base (Sakhalin).  Kornukov was appointed Russia’s new Air Force Commander by Boris Yeltsin on January 22, 1998.  He served in this capacity until retiring in January 2002.

Gerasimenko—Lt. Colonel, Acting Commander, 41st Fighter Regiment

Major Osipovich (center)
Major Osipovich (center),
courtesy of airbase.uka.ru
Osipovich—Maj. Gennadie Osipovich, pilot of Sukhoi 15 Flagon (SU-15) interceptor, call sign 805, based at Sokol on Sakhalin

Tarasov— Pilot of SU-15, call sign 121, flying in support position to Osipovich.

Titovnin—Flight controller, Fighter Division Combat Control Center

Times are given in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC, formerly Greenwich Mean Time or GMT).  In the air over Sakhalin, it was early in the morning of September 1, 1983.

The following is quoted from Rescue 007, pages 22 to 26.  The Russian transcripts are from the 1993 ICAO report.  Osipovich’s communications to his ground controller, Titovnin, was also captured by the US National Security Agency and were played by the US in the UN Security Council right after the attack, much to the chagrin of the Russian delegates.  Commentary is provided by Bert Schlossberg.

General Anatoli Kornukov
General Anatoli Kornukov, courtesy of Pravda.RU
Kornukov: (18:21)

Gerasimenko, cut the horseplay at the command post, what is that noise there?  I repeat the combat task: fire the missiles, fire on target 60-65 [KAL 007] destroy target 60-65.

Gerasimenko: (18:22)

Comply and get Tarasov here.

Take control of the MiG 23 from Smyrnykh, call sign 163, call sign 163, he is behind the target at the moment.  Destroy the target!

Task received.  Destroy target 60-65 with missile fire, accept control of fighter from Smyrnykh.

Carry out the task, destroy [it]!

Flight 007 was to get a brief reprieve.  As the jumbo jet climbed, its speed decreased, engine power being diverted from velocity to lift, and Osipovich’s Sukhoi 15 quickly overtook and was soon abreast of the passenger plane.  Major Osipovich showed irritation as he communicated with his flight controller, Titovnin.

Osipovich: (18:22:02)
The target is decreasing speed.

Osipovich: (18:22:17)
I am going around it.  I’m already moving in front of the target.

Increase speed, 805 [call sign of Osipovich’s Sukhoi].

Osipovich: (18:22:23)
I have increased speed.

Has the target increased speed, yes?

Osipovich: (18:22:29)
No, it is decreasing speed.

805, open fire on target.

Osipovich: (18:22:42)
It should have been earlier.  How can I chase it?  I’m already abeam of the target.

For a look into Osipovich's state of mind at this point in his pursuit of KAL 007, click here. These were his thoughts given at an interview with "Izvestiya" newspaper eight years after the shootdown.

Roger, if possible, take up a position for attack.

Osipovich: (18:22:55)
Now I have to fall back a bit from the target.

Osipovich’s irritation with his controller reflects the fact that, in contrast with the freedom of initiative given to an American pilot in combat, a Soviet pilot must be “vectored” and commanded for almost every move he makes.

KAL 007 leveled off at 18:23 at 35,000 feet. Now it would have only 3 minutes of flying time before Osipovich’s “Anab” medium range air-to-air missile would come streaking toward it from the rear.  And, it was now General Kornukov’s turn to exhibit irritation and concern.  From his communication to Gerasimenko, it is clear that KAL 007 was shot down by the Soviets not because it posed a threat to them, but because it was escaping.

Oh, [obscenities] how long does it take him to get into attack position, he is already getting out into neutral waters.  Engage afterburner immediately.  Bring in the MiG 23 as well...  While you are wasting time it will fly right out.

With back-up from the MiG 23 (call sign 163), and at a distance of eight kilometers, Major Osipovich executes what he believes will be the destruction of KAL 007 (he has distanced himself from the target so that his interceptor will not be struck by fragments of the exploding passenger plane).

Here again we can jump into Osipovich's mind at this crucial juncture of the pursuit of flight 007. Click here for more of his thoughts from the aforementioned 1991 "Izvestiya" interview.

805, try to destroy the target with cannons.

Osipovich: (18:22:37)
I am dropping back.  Now I will try a rocket.


MiG 23 (163): (18:23:49)
Twelve kilometers to the target.  I see both [the Soviet interceptor piloted by Osipovich and KAL 007].

805, approach target and destroy target.

Osipovich: (18:24:22)
Roger, I am in lock-on.

805, are you closing on the target?

Osipovich: (18:25:11)
I am closing on the target, am in lock-on.  Distance to target is eight kilometers.



Osipovich: (18:25:16)
I have already switched it on.


Sukhoi 15 TM Flagon
For a fascinating look (and listen) into the cockpit of KAL 007, and into the unfolding drama leading to Escape from Destruction, click here for FAQ #5 - "What happened to KAL 007 when the missile exploded?"

Osipovich: (18:26:20)
I have executed the launch.

Osipovich: (18:26:22)
The target is destroyed.

Break off attack to the right, heading 360.

Osipovich: (18:26:27)
I am breaking off attack.

In 1996, Osipovich would reverse his previous denials that he knew that the "target" he had downed was a civilian passenger plane.

"I saw two rows of windows and knew that this was a Boeing.  I knew this was a civilian plane.  But for me this meant nothing.  It is easy to turn a civilian type of plane into one for military use."  (New York Times interview, September 9, 1996)

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