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July 17, 2014

The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

WASHINGTON — Speculation is rife about what caused the tragic crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 on Thursday in eastern Ukraine. All 295 people on board are feared dead. Ukrainian officials suggest the plane was brought down by an anti-aircraft missile fired by pro-Russian separatists still locked in battle with Kiev's forces. It is far from certain that this is the case.

What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. Sadly, there is a long history of passenger craft being prey to overzealous military forces. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

El Al flight 402

A passenger flight headed from Vienna to Tel Aviv in July 1955 strayed into Bulgarian airspace, then firmly in the Eastern bloc, and was intercepted by two Bulgarian fighters who shot it down. The aircraft exploded in air, killing all 58 people aboard.

Libyan Arab Airlines 114

In 1973, a passenger aircraft headed to Cairo from the Libyan capital Tripoli got lost due to bad weather -- a sandstorm -- and malfunctioning equipment and drifted into Israeli airspace. Two Israeli Phantom fighter jets approached the plane, reportedly thinking it was an Egyptian MIG. Their missile strikes on the plane led it to crash-land in the dunes of the Sinai desert. Only five of the 113 people on board survived.

Itavia Airlines flight 780

On June 27, 1980, a passenger plane left the northern Italian city of Bologna for Palermo, in Sicily, but it never reached its island destination. Wreckage of the plane was found in the Tyrrhenian Sea. There were no survivors among the 81 who boarded. The plane crash is still the subject of innuendo and debate. Initial theories suggested a terrorist bomb blast on board, but subsequent investigations concluded the plane was likely caught in the midst of a dogfight between NATO fighter jets and Libyan MIGs. The inquiry into the crash said that investigations were deliberately obfuscated by members of the Italian military and secret service.

Korean Airlines flight 007

On Sept. 1, 1983, KAL 007, bound from New York to Seoul with a stopover in Anchorage, veered from its usual flight path into Soviet territory. Two Soviet fighter jets intercepted the plane and ordered it to change trajectory, but the passenger plane's pilot reportedly did not respond. A missile strike sent the flight on a harrowing tailspin into the Sea of Japan. All 269 people on board perished, including 61 Americans.

The incident spiked Cold War intrigue and to this day is shrouded by conspiracy theories. The United States at the time time dubbed it a "massacre"; the Soviets accused the U.S. of hatching a deliberate provocation. Inquiries since the fall of the U.S.S.R. seem to point to the event being a sad misunderstanding.

Iran Air flight 655

The American missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane headed to Dubai over the Persian Gulf in 1988. The ship had been engaged in skirmishes with Iranian vessels and supposedly thought the slow-moving IR655 was an Iranian fighter jet. All 290 passengers on board perished - a tragedy that still echoes profoundly in Iran and shapes its views of the United States. The U.S. has never formally apologized for the attack on the plane, but in 1996 agreed to a settlement of some $62 million to be paid out to the families of the victims.

Lionair flight 602

In 1998, a flight from the restive Tamil northern heartland of Sri Lanka to the capital Colombo disappeared with all 48 passengers. Wreckage of the aircraft was only discovered 14 years later, in 2012, by a Sri Lankan navy vessel. It's not certain how it crashed, but initial reports claimed the plane was shot down by the MANPAD batteries of the now defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

Siberia Airlines 1812

A plane carrying passengers from Tel Aviv to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk plunged into the Black Sea on Oct. 4, 2001. All 78 people on board died. Mystery still surrounds the plane's crash, but it's likely it was brought down by an errant Ukrainian missile, though authorities in Kiev resolutely denied any involvement.



 

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