Cold War: USSR intercepts US aircraft
Seaboard World Airlines Flight 253A
Seaboard World Airlines Flight 253A was a military charter flight carrying 214 American troops bound for Vietnam. On 1 July 1968, the plane was intercepted by Soviet jets after it unintentionally violated Soviet airspace. It was forced to land on one of the Soviet-controlled Kuril Islands with all 238 Americans aboard being detained for two days. The incident was a diplomatic embarrassment for the United States.
On the afternoon of 1 July 1968, a Seaboard World Airlines Douglas DC-8 Super 63CF departed McChord Air Force Base, near Seattle, Washington bound for Yokota Air Base in Japan. The plane was piloted by Joseph D. Tosolini, with copilot Henry Treger, flight engineer Earl Scott, and navigator Lawrence Guernon. Because the plane was on its maiden voyage, the crew also included a check pilot and a check engineer. It was carrying 214 American troops and 24 crew members who were en route to Vietnam via Japan.
The aircraft strayed westward of its planned track as it came into range of Japan, passing along the Soviet-controlled Kuril Islands. Japanese radar controllers notified the crew of the error when it was about 80 nautical miles off course. Accounts differ as to whether the message was unintelligible to Flight 253A due to static or whether the message was received but the crew did not have time to react. Two Soviet MIG fighter aircraft, piloted by Yu. B. Alexandrov, V.A. Igonin, I.F. Evtoshenko and I.K. Moroz, intercepted the DC-8 at 2320 UTC (0820 hours), and directed it to follow by firing warning shots. The DC-8 was led to Burevestnik airfield on Soviet-controlled Iturup Island, landing at 2343 UTC (0839 hours), on the 2400 m (7900 ft) concrete runway. No damage to the plane was reported by the captain as he shut down the engines at 0842 hours.
Burevestnik was a Soviet interceptor airfield served only by a military post and a small village. Initially all the Americans were confined to the aircraft and allowed outside to a radius of about 100 meters of the plane. Food in the galley ran out the next day, and the Russians delivered military rations of brown bread, canned cheese, butter, weak coffee, beef bouillon, noodles, and cigarettes. The female cabin flight crew were allowed to sleep in a maintenance building on the second night.
Diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Moscow began almost immediately with U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson already in Moscow for nuclear arms reduction talks. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which had been negotiated just weeks earlier, had been signed by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson on that day. Ambassador Thompson informed Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin that the airspace violation was unintentional, but Kosygin explained that his hands were tied and that the incident was under investigation. The following day Thompson was given a short protest note by the Soviets, the U.S. issued a short note of apology, and Tosolini also apologized, allowing the plane to leave. Upon landing at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan about an hour later, Tosolini retracted his apology, insisting the plane had not strayed into Soviet territory.
The incident was a diplomatic embarrassment for all parties, playing into the hands of the Soviet Union by distracting the U.S. from arms talks. The Sino-Soviet split reached a peak at this time and with China viewing the USSR's release of the plane as aiding Americans in the fight against North Vietnam, one of China's allies.
In December 1968 Seaboard was forced to pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the Federal Aviation Administration, as its onboard Doppler radar was not properly certified.
Thanks for posting. I had not heard about that incident until now.
Interesting story, thanks for posting. Incidentally, the issue with the Doppler radar is a bit of a red herring. Its main purpose is for weather avoidance not navigation. Those sets had limited ability to accurately distinguish landmarks. Long range overwater navigation, in those days, was normally accomplished by using celestial references, radio beacons, NAVAIDS, LORAN, and dead reckoning, There were rudimentary inertial navigation sets installed. It's a known fact that the Soviets frequently performed meaconing to deceive military and civil aircraft in that area. That's what contributed to the demise of KAL007.
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