Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17) was a scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that crashed on 17 July 2014. The plane is believed to have been shot down with a Buk surface-to-air missile. The Boeing 777-200ER airliner went down near Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, about 50 km from the Ukraine–Russia border, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The crash occurred in the conflict zone of the ongoing Donbass insurgency, in an area controlled by the Donbass People’s Militia.
The two sides in Ukraine’s ongoing conflict (the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists) accused each other of shooting down the plane while denying their own responsibility. A Ukrainian Interior Ministry official, Anton Gerashchenko, said a Buk surface-to-air missile hit the aircraft at an altitude of 10,000 meters.
Locals in Torez reported sightings of a Buk missile launcher on the day of the incident. U.S. officials stated that sensors that traced the path of the missile, shrapnel patterns in the wreckage, voice print analysis of separatists’ conversations in which they claimed credit for the strike, and photos and other data from social-media sites all indicated that Russian-backed separatists had fired the missile.
The crash of MH17 marks the fifth Boeing 777 hull loss, and the third within a year. With 298 deaths, MH17 is the deadliest air incident in the Ukraine, and the deadliest airliner shootdown in history. The crash was Malaysia Airlines’ worst incident and its second of the year, after the disappearance of Flight 370 on 8 March, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
1988 – 290 Dead Passengers
Iran Air Flight 655 was an Iran Air civilian passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai that was shot down by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988. The incident took place in Iranian airspace, over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, and on the flight’s usual flight path. The aircraft, an Airbus A300 B2-203, was destroyed by SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles fired from the Vincennes.
All 290 on board, including 66 children and 16 crew, died. This event ranks seventh among the deadliest disasters in aviation history, the incident retains the highest death toll of any aviation incident in the Persian Gulf and the highest death toll of any incident involving an Airbus aircraft. The USS Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters after one of its helicopters drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats operating within Iranian territorial limits, after the helicopter violated the Rules of Engagement by getting too close to the speedboats. The United States officially claimed that the Vincennes was acting in self-defense in international waters at the time of the incident; subsequent disclosures would show that the Vincennes had entered Iranian waters and then initiated a skirmish with the Iranian coastal patrol vessels which had posed no threat to it, when it misidentified the ascending Airbus for a descending Iranian F-14.
According to the Iranian government, Vincennes negligently shot down the civilian aircraft: the airliner was making IFF squawks in Mode III (not Mode II used by Iranian military planes), a signal that identified it as a civilian craft, and operators of Vincennes mistook for Mode II.
According to the United States Government, the crew incorrectly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 A Tomcat fighter, a plane made in the United States and operated at that time by only two forces worldwide, the United States Navy and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. The Iranian F-14s had been supplied by manufacturer Grumman in an air-to-air configuration only and had no known anti-ship capabilities.
As of 1993, the United States had not apologized to Iran. In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, including a recognition of the incident in the form of “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the Loss of lives caused by the incident…”. As part of the settlement, the United States did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay on an “ex gratia” basis US $ 61.8 million, amounting to $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims. Iran Air still uses flight number IR655 on the Tehran–Dubai route as a memorial to the victims.
1983 – 269 Dead Passengers
Korean Air Lines Flight 007 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-15 interceptor near Moneron Island, west of Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Japan, killing all 269 passengers and crew aboard, 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 shootdown, 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.