Murder in the Sky

While the world watches in horror, questions are pounding of who carried out the heinous attack on a passenger flight going from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur. The Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the disaster, which is being speculated as a missile attack. Reports claim the SA-11 Buk missile, known as “Gadfly” in NATO, struck the aircraft. The missile is possessed by Russia, Ukraine and Pro Russian rebels have also boasted of having the missile in their arsenals.

Circumstantial evidence points increasingly to the separatists, Western officials and analysts say, pointing to rebel claims of shooting at Ukrainian military aircraft at approximately the same time.  The rebels were believed to have used a similar system to shoot down a Ukrainian Antonov AN-26 aircraft on Monday. Whether the 1970s-era radar-guided missiles would have been supplied  by Russia or captured from Ukrainian forces is uncertain.

On June 29, Russian newswire ITAR-TASS quoted separatists in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, not far from where the plane went down, as saying they had seized control of a missile defence army unit equipped with the Buk system.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry official Anton Gerashchenko said after the crash the Buk anti-aircraft system was “kindly given to the separatists by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”
Moscow, however, suggests Ukraine was responsible.    

The tragedy will be a game changer in the ongoing strife between Ukraine and Russia, most probably inciting international actions. Previously such incidents of shooting down commercial airlines have been between warring nations. We take a look at the tragic events –

Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 (2001)

On October 4, 2001, 64 Siberia Airlines passengers and 12 crew members on board a Soviet-made Tupolev Tu-154 en route from Novosibirsk to Tel Aviv were killed when the plane was shot down over the Black Sea by a Ukrainian missile. The day of the shoot-down, the Ukrainian military was conducting a massive military exercise which involved shooting 23 missiles at drones.

Iran Air Flight 655 (1988)

On July 3, 1988, as the Iran-Iraq war was winding down, an Airbus A300 took off from a nearby airport, one which was used for both military and civilian purposes. An American cruiser, the USS Vincennes, mistook the plane for an F-14, and launched two missiles, downing the plane and killing all 290 on board.

President Reagan called the event a “terrible human tragedy,” and stated “we deeply regret any loss of life.” Iran’s UN ambassador condemned the action as ”criminal act,” an ”atrocity” and a ”massacre,” while the US insisted it was a misunderstanding.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983)

KAL007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter plane on September 1, 1983, killing all 269 passengers and crew, including Larry McDonal, a Congressman from Georgia then in his fourth term. International Civil Aviation Organization report from 1993 found Soviet personnel appearing baffled and concerned by the presence of an unknown aircraft and shot the plane down without any communication.

Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 (1973)

On February 21, 1973, a Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 727 flying from Tripoli to Cairo got lost and flew over the Sinai peninsula, which had been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967. After giving signals to land and firing warning shots, Israeli jets shot down the plane, killing 108 of the 113 people on board, and leaving four passengers and a co-pilot alive.

Cathay Pacific Airways (1954)

In July 23, 1954, mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army fighters shot down a Cathay Pacific Airways (the airline of Hong Kong, then under British control) C-54 Skymaster flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong; 10 out of the 19 passengers and crew died. The Chinese government stated stated that they had thought the plane was a military aircraft from the Republic of China (Taiwan) on an attack mission against Hainan Island.

The initial tragedy was compounded when two PLA fighters engaged three US Navy planes that were searching for survivors; the two PLA planes were shot down.

El Al Flight 402 (1955)

On July 27, 1955, an El Al flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv flew into Bulgarian airspace and was shot down by two Bulgarian MiG fighters. All 58 people on board were killed. After initially denying involvement, Bulgaria admitted to having shot the plane down. Despite occurring during a low point in relations between the Soviet bloc (including Bulgaria) and the US and its allies (including Israel), international fallout was minimal.


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