The missile attack on a Malaysian airliner on July 17, 2014, has left many wondering about the number of civilian planes shot down throughout history. Some people are surprised to hear that disasters like the Malaysia Airlines MH17 incident are not without precedent. As a matter of fact, the last time a passenger jet was shot down was 13 years ago in Ukraine.
Passenger Planes Shot Down in Recent History:
- October 2001: Less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Ukrainian military launched a surface-to-air missile on the Crimean Peninsula that hit a Siberian Airlines plane. All 78 people aboard were killed. The Ukrainian government denied any responsibility in the immediate aftermath but then admitted to accidentally firing the missile.
- September 1993: Three Transair Georgia passenger planes were shot down in the span of three days in the breakaway Abkhazia region during a war to gain independence from Georgia. A total of 136 people were killed in the attacks.
- December 1988: Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a terrorist bombing in the airspace over Lockerbie, Scotland. All of the plane’s 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed. Debris from the wreckage killed 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie. In 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi finally accepted responsibility for the terrorist attack and paid compensation to the families of the Lockerbie victims.
- July 1988: Nearly 300 people were killed when a U.S. Navy warship shot down an Iranian Airlines flight in the Persian Gulf. The USS Vincennes thought it was shooting down an Iranian F-14 fighter plane but actually downed an Iran Air Airbus A300 with 290 souls on board. The U.S. agreed to pay Iran $61.8 million under the terms of a 1996 International Court of Justice agreement.
- September 1983: A Soviet Union fighter plane shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 after the passenger plane veered off of its flight path into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers and crew members were killed, including U.S. Congressman Lawrence McDonald (D-GA).
- September 1978 and February 1979: Air Rhodesia Flight 825 was shot down in 1978 during a missile attack in what is now Zimbabwe by the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) during a civil war that lasted throughout the 1970s. Of the 56 people on board, 38 were killed. Ten survivors were later killed by rebels. In 1979, Air Rhodesia Flight 827 was shot down by missile fire. All of the plane’s 59 occupants died.
- April 1978: Soviet air defense opened fire on Korean Airlines Flight 902 after the passenger plane off course into Soviet airspace. KAL 902 made an emergency landing on a frozen Korpijarvi lake near the border with Finland. Two of the plane’s 109 occupants were killed.
- February 1985: A sandstorm caused Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 to drift into Sinai, which was controlled by Israel. Israeli fighter pilots gave the airliner a directive to land, then issued warning shots. Israeli fighters then shot down the plane, killing all but five of the 113 people on board.
- July 1955: El Al Flight 402 was gunned down in a highly strained region in Bulgaria, killing all 58 people aboard. The passenger plane was heading to Tel Aviv when it drifted into Bulgarian airspace and was shot down by two Bulgarian fighter planes.
- July 1954: China mistook a Cathay Pacific Airways plane for military aircraft, shooting it down off the coast of Hainan Island. According to BBC, 10 out of the 19 on board were killed.