Organic Matter: Russians avoid repeat of plane downing

An incident played out Thursday in Russian airspace that was strikingly similar to one nearly 18 years ago in which Russian fighter planes shot down a Korean Air Lines 747, killing 269 people.

The Korean Air Lines jet was headed for Japan from the United States on Sept.

1, 1983.

Flight deck personnel entered an incorrect course into the plane's navigational system that took it off its regular route and over a Soviet military installation on Sakhalin Island late at night.

Passengers aboard the 747 jet had no inkling of what was about to happen.

Russian fighters were scrambled to intercept and shot down the jet.

Soviet leaders contended it was on a spy mission as their justification for the shoot down during the Reagan Administration.

Last week, Delta Air Lines Flight 55 was traveling from San Francisco to Japan with 203 passengers and 15 crewmembers.

The flight originated in Atlanta.

The jet had flown for over nine hours when it entered Russian airspace along the same route the flight always took.

About 20 minutes after penetrating Russian airspace, Soviet flight controllers notified the pilot his plane did not have proper clearance and ordered him to turn back.

Perhaps aware of the attack on the Korean Air Lines plane, the Delta pilot complied and did a 180.

He safely landed his jet in San Francisco 5.5 hours later.

Officials with Delta said there was a mixup in filing paperwork to get clearance for the flight to traverse Russian airspace but that verbal permission had been obtained in advance from Moscow.

Three other Delta flights to Japan through Russian airspace the same day were not affected.

The Soviet incident came less than a week after a U.S.

Navy EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft with 24 crewmembers had to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island following a midair collision with a Chinese fighter plane on April 1.

The Chinese plane crashed and its pilot is presumed dead.

The American flight crew, which included three women, has been detained on Hainan Island.

Chinese leaders are seeking on an apology from the United States, insisting the U.S.

Navy is responsible.


officials say the Navy plane was over the South China Sea and not in Chinese airspace at the time of the accident, so no apology is warranted.

The question for me is where do we draw the line between a government trying to safeguard sensitive military information and paranoia?

Would the Delta jet have been shot down had its pilot refused to turn back, perhaps telling Soviet air controllers he did not have enough fuel to return to San Francisco?

Are commercial airliners performing reconnaissance missions? At least one Far East government seems to think so.

As far as the China-U.S.

incident, different stories are being told as to where the collision happened.

Which version do you believe?

Should President Bush apologize to China? Or should he continue to stand his ground on the incident, knowing that an apology, whether justified or not, could expedite the return of our 24 personnel being detained in China?

* * *

A 10-year-old boy in South Carolina showed some quick thinking that saved his life April 2.

Alex Compton of Abbeville was crossing railroad tracks near his home when one foot got caught on some rocks as a train approached.

The train severed the leg.

Alex removed his belt and tied it around the leg as a tourniquet to stem blood loss.

He learned the technique from his mother, Lisa Compton, who is studying to become a nurse.

The AP story, which did not state which leg was severed, said the leg could not be re-attached by doctors.

The Abbeville County coroner said he has never known anyone to survive such an accident.

Lisa Compton said her son's main concern now is how he is going to ride his bicycle and run and play with other children.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.