On August 31, Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a gigantic Boeing 747 airliner, left New York en route to Seoul. After refueling in Anchorage, Alaska, the jumbo jet headed across the Pacific Ocean and strayed over Soviet territory, including the Kamchatka peninsula and southern Sakhalin Island. Before dawn on September 1, a Soviet SU–15 interceptor shot down the airliner as it was about to reenter international airspace. KAL Flight 007 disappeared over the Sea of Japan with 269 people aboard, including many U.S. citizens. Among them was Congressman Larry McDonald from Georgia.
While Soviet officials originally refused to admit what had happened and later rationalized the shootdown as a defense of their airspace, U.S. military forces in the Pacific, in cooperation with the Japanese Self Defense Forces, launched an intensive search of the Sea of Japan near Sakhalin. They did not expect to find survivors, but they did hope to find the aircraft’s flight recorder to reveal more about the tragedy.
Three HC–130 aircraft from the 33d Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Kadena AB in Japan deployed at Yokota AB for the search. An HC–130, flown by Capt. Mark Leuthold and his crew, was the first U.S. aircraft over the search area. It was joined by a Navy P–3 aircraft and surface vessels.
To support the search and salvage operations, MAC flew at least 36 tons of equipment and supplies and 36 search and salvage specialists from the United States and from Ramstein AB in West Germany to Hakodate on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. The Military Airlift Command used four C–141s and one C–5, the latter from the 60th Military Airlift Wing at Travis AFB in California. Despite these efforts, searchers found no survivors and never found the flight recorder from KAL 007.