Disasters that Shaped Modern Korea (1980s)

Modern Korea was shaped as much by its disasters as its achievements. The 1980s saw its share of air disasters and terrorism from North Korea. Plus the Hwaseong serial murders that weren’t solved until 2019.

  • (1980) Korean Air Lines Flight 015 crash
  • (1983) February 1982 Korean Air Force C-123 accident 
  • (1986) Gimpo International Airport bombing
  • (1987) Korean Air Flight 858 bombing
  • (1986-1991) Hwaseong serial murders

Part of the Korean Disasters Series:

Disasters that Shaped Modern Korea (1950s-70s)

“The Disaster Republic”: Disasters that Shaped Modern Korea (1990s)

Disasters that Shaped Modern Korea (21st Century)

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NOTES

  • (1980) Korean Air Lines Flight 015 crash (pilot error) – 15 killed, 226 on board

    • LAX to Seoul (Gimpo) – stop in Anchorage, AK
    • Crashed while landing
      • Calm wind but patchy fog w/1000 meters visibility
      • Circled several times
      • Pilot reported trouble with the controls shortly before beginning landing at 7:15 a.m.
      • 90 meters short, embankment slope
        • Hit anti-aircraft gun emplacement
        • Wing hit a parked military vehicle
        • Pushed landing gears into the cargo compartment, rupturing it
        • Slid down runway on nose gear and belly, fire
          • Wings were intact
          • Fuel tank not ruptured, not much left anyway
          • Fire in cargo department from sparks and hydraulic fluid
        • 6 crew, 9 passengers killed, 4 seriously injured
          • Among the killed
            • Pilot & Crew 5 Koreans, 1 Hong Konger
            • 1 American, 1 Japanese
            • From the upper deck?
          • Quick actions by the crew to open emergency exits and chutes are credited for the large number of survivors
    • Evaluation
      • [from Code 7700] Minimums for the approach were 500m visibility and decision height of 200 feet
        • Would have seen the lights but not the runway at 200 feet
        • At 100 feet, would have seen the runway
        • Speculation: A pilot without the discipline or experience to remain on the instruments would be tempted to dive for the runway when they glimpsed it, ducking under the glide path
        • “ a classic novice instrument pilot mistake”

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  • (1982) February 1982 Korean Air Force C-123 accident – 53 killed

    • On approach
    • Bad weather on training mission
    • Crashed into Mt. Halla in Jeju
    • Fourth worst in Korean history
    • 47 passengers and six crew killed
      • All passengers soldiers from army’s elite 707th Special Mission Battalion
  • (1983) Korean Air Lines 007


    • NYC – Seoul via Anchorage
    • (Sept 1, 1983) Shot down by Soviet Su-15 Interceptor
    • Navigation error
      • Flew through prohibited soviet air space
      • Same time as a U.S. aerial reconnaissance mission 
      • Treated it as a spy plane
      • Four MiG-23 fighters were deployed
      • Fired warning shots (likely not seen by pilots)
        • Not incendiary shells
      • Plane climbed to a higher altitude to save fuel
        • Interpreted as an evasive maneuver
      • Fired air-to-air missiles
      • The crew were able to stabilize the aircraft for five minutes. Then it spiraled out of control and broke apart
      • All 269 passengers plus crew killed
        • Rep. Larry McDonald (Ga)
    • Root causes
      • One of the beacons used for programming the autopilot in Anchorage was down for repairs
      • Autopilot was on HEADING mode (based on magnetic positioning) when it should have been switched to INS mode (pre-programmed) after passing Bethel, AK and had already veered too far off course to kick in
        • Not detected by crew
      • Communications not connected (using VHF rather than HF)
      • High tensions between U.S. and Soviet Union
        • Lots of missile programs and deployments and naval exercises
        • Old guard Soviet hierarchy viewed this as provocative
        • Some believe Reagan was plotting a secret nuclear attack
        • U.S. aircraft had routinely been violating Soviet air space, and military officials were getting punished for not doing anything about it
        • A soviet missile test was scheduled in that area on the same day
        • A radar that would have been able to track and identify it as civilian was under repair, and those responsible lied to Moscow that it was operational
        • There was a recorded debate between Gen. Valery Kamensky and his subordinate, Gen. Anatoly Kornukov over whether to identify it first
        • Entered, left and re-entered Soviet airspace. When it re-entered, it was classified as a target
        • Planes made visual contact but couldn’t identify it as civilian because of night
        • Kornukov gave the order to shoot it down before it returned to international air space
          • Recollection of pilot who shot it down
            • Saw blinking lights, indicating it was a civilian aircraft
            • But felt it could easily be a ruse
            • Didn’t mention it was a Boeing sized aircraft because no one asked
            • The pilot’s recollection sounds like an overeager mall cop
    • Soviets initially denied knowledge
      • Then admitted to it but saying it was a U.S. provocation to test boundaries of Soviet Union preparedness or to provoke a war
      • Lied that the plane was running without lights, that tracer bullets were fired, or had radio contact
      • Impeded search and rescue and hid evidence from International Civil Aviation Organization
      • One of the most tense moments of the Cold War
    • Aftermath
      • U.S. altered tracking procedures for aircraft departing from Alaska
      • Autopilot interface altered to make it more ergonomic
      • One of the incidents that pushed the Reagan administration to allow worldwide access to GPS
      • The U.S., Japan, and U.S.S.R. set up joint radar coverage of civilian aircraft
      • Soviets found flight recorder but kept it secret until 1993
      • Korean pilot in Monthly Chosun 1996 who took off behind Flight 007:
        • Policy of punishing crews for mistakes kept them from turning back
        • Loss of face
        • Radioed the pilot of the plane and asked why slipping behind schedule
          • Answer: “The wind is strong.”
          • Answer was short and hasty, like he was hiding something
        • Fear of punishment as KAL policy caused them to take risks
        • Believes INS wasn’t functioning because path was too meandering
          • Says there were many instances of Korean pilot errors in using navigation equipment and airline’s punitive reactions
          • Coordinates are entered at the boarding gate
            • If error discovered in flight, hard to correct
            • Must return to airport
          • (1982) Flight from Paris
            • Pilots discovered autopilot navigation error
            • Returned to Paris
            • Pilot was suspended for 20 days
          • Flight from Honolulu mistakenly put in coordinates for Hong Kong
            • Returned to airport
            • Pilot severely punished
          • Flight Anchorage to Seoul
            • Student pilot put in incorrect coordinates
            • Feared punishment, so crew flew by compass
            • Found a J.A.L. plane and followed it
        • The pilot in the interview brought it up with KAL management, but they didn’t change policy

 

  • (1986) Gimpo International Airport bombing (NK) – 5 killed

    • September 14, leading up to Asian Games
    • South warned that North may disrupt Games
      • North didn’t participate in Games; convinced Vietnam and Cambodia to boycott
      • South gave up hosting Games in 1970 due to North’s threats
    • Occurred 15:12 international terminal 
    • Blast source was metal trash bin near taxi stand
    • Victims
      • Kim Bong-deok (42), Ok Geun-sook (34), Kim Hyun-joo (?), Ok Kun (22) (parents, daughter, mother’s brother; other members of the family were injured); family just said goodbye to relative at departure terminal 
      • Yoo Joo-han (41), airport employee changing a lightbulb
      • Approximately 30+ injured, 20+ seriously (initial reports)
    • Heavy structural damage to walls, windows, etc
    • Batteries and wiring were discovered
  •  South suggested explosion was similar to Daegu (82) and Rangoon (83)
    • Daegu was blamed on potential dissidents, but likely North (2 deaths)
    • Rangoon was blamed on North (21 deaths, 46 injured)
      • Assassination attempt on Chun Doo-hwan
      • Three bombs detonated, collapsed Martyrs Mausoleum roof
      • 17 Korean politicians, security personnel, and journalists died
    • Government protests were occurring at the time (see our episode)
  • Expected visitor numbers decreased
  • Result: massive increase in security for future events
  • (Nov 29, 1987) Korean Air Flight 858 (NK attack)

    • Baghdad→ Seoul
    • Exploded midflight
    • Background
      • Agents flew to Moscow
        • Traveled to Budapest then Vienna
        • Were given two forged Japanese passports and posed as tourists in Vienna
        • Flew to Belgrade 
          • Received the time bomb
            • Panasonic transistor radio and a bottle of explosive disguised as a liquor bottle to intensify the blast
            • People today questioning: They could bring those on planes?
        • Baghdad
          • Waited 3.5 hours for KAL 858 to arrive
          • Planted the explosives above their seats
        • Abu Dhabi
          • Left
          • Had purchased tickets from Abu Dhabi to Rome as an escape
          • Tried to fly to Amman, Jordan, as part of their escape
            • Trouble with travel visas
          • Flew to Bahrain
      • Flight itself
        • On the leg from Abu Dhabi to Thailand
        • Carrying 104 passengers and 11 crew
        • Exploded nine hours after it had been planted, almost towards the end of the flight
        • Most all on board except two were South Korean
          • Young construction workers returning home
    • Bahrain
      • Planned to travel to Rome
      • Passports spotted as forgeries
      • Took cyanide capsules hidden in cigarettes
        • One died
        • Woman survived – Kim Hyon-hui
          • Tried to claim she was a Chinese orphan raised in Japan
          • The cigarettes were a dead giveaway
          • Weird story about how she came around
            • Shown TV of South Korea that contradicted everything she was taught to believe
            • Threw her arms around the female investigator and confessed to the bombing
    • Planned by Kim Jong-Il before he came to power
      • Meant as a scare tactic before the 1988 Olympics
    • Aftermath
      • Helped Chun Doo-Hwan to get his successor Roh Tae-Woo elected
      • Put NK on state sponsors of terorrism list
      • NK denies
      • Kim Hyon-hui sentenced to death
        • Pardoned by Roh Tae-woo
          • Claimed she was brainwashed
        • Published a book in 1993 The Tears of My Soul
        • 1990 – Mayumi
        • Kim Hyon Hui now lives in an undisclosed location under security
  • (1986-1991) Hwaseong serial murders – 10 killed (4 others connected/confessed)

    • Lee Choon-jae
    • Murders took place in Hwaseong City (districts: Taean, Jeongnam, Paltan, Dongtan), southwest of Seoul
    • Victims – aged 7 to 71; most we taken from secluded areas and/or at night; there were few street lights and no CCTVs – one victim was murdered in her bed; rural community at the time
      • September 15, 1986: Lee Wan-im (71)
      • October 20, 1986: Park Hyun-sook (25)
      • December 12, 1986: Kwon Jung-bon (25)
      • December 14, 1986: Lee Kye-sook (23)
      • January 10, 1987: Jong Jin-young (18)
      • May 2, 1987: Park Eun-joo (29)
      • *December 24, 1987: 18 year old victim
      • September 7, 1988: Ahn Gi-soon (54)
      • September 16, 1988: Park Sang-hee (13; murdered at home)
      • *July 7, 1989: 7 year old victim
      • November 15, 1990: Kim Mi-jeong (14)
      • *January 26, 1991: 15 year old victim
      • *March 7, 1991: 27 year old victim
      • April 3, 1991: Kwon Soon-sang (67)
    • Victims were raped and strangled, often with articles of their clothing; used hands in early murders; panties on victims’ faces; later murders: peach slices, razor blades, utensils, pens found 
    • Shamans performed rituals; soothsayers were consulted
    • Largest single investigation in Korean history at the time
      • 2 million+ person hours
      • 21,000+ suspects
    • July 27, 1989: Yoon Sang-yeo arrested, later convicted for murder of Park Sang-hee (victim 8)
      • Loose forensic connection
      • Admitted guilt
      • Deemed copycat murder
    • Murders went unsolved for decades
    • September 18, 2019
      • Lee Choon-jae linked through DNA; confessed
        • Confessed to other murders and 30+ rapes
      • January 13, 1994: Lee raped/murdered sister-in-law (18)
        • Was serving life sentence when confessed
        • Sentence was reduced from death penalty
          • If he was executed, Hwaseong Murders may have never been solved
    • Yoon Sang-yeo had already served 20 years
      • Criminal record expunged 
    • Statute of limitations protects Lee from ever being charged
      • Statute went through revisions before being removed (2015); not retroactive

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