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A Brief History of Airliner Shootdown Incidents

On January 8th, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 with 176 onboard crashed shortly after takeoff from Iran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA). The crash resulted in the deaths of all 176 passengers and crew. Immediately following the incident, Iranian officials claimed that “technical issues” onboard the aircraft resulted in the horrific crash. However, just days after the event, new intelligence received by the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom appeared to confirm reports that the Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. A day later, Iran confirmed that its military “accidentally” shot down the airliner.

According to a recent report by The Associated Press, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the United States “Believes[s] it is likely that that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile.” On January 9th, US officials announced that intelligence showed that a missile downed the passenger aircraft. Similar intelligence gathered by Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom reportedly confirms US intelligence. With four major allies essentially arriving at the consensus that Iran is to blame for the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters he is “confident that we and the world will take appropriate action as a response.” With the international community having concluded that Iran had shot down the airliner, Iranian officials announced that officials would hold a briefing regarding the incident. A day after intelligence had surfaced, Iranian officials confirmed that an anti-aircraft missile had erroneously targeted Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752. With additional information withheld and unconfirmed, Iran stated that it would cooperate with Boeing, Ukraine, and the United States during the investigation.


The wreckage of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 outside of Tehran, Iran. (Image by Hossein Mersadi/FARS News)


The crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 is not the first time missiles have been implicated in the crash of a passenger aircraft. In the 2012 book China’s Wings: War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom during the Golden Age of Flight by Gregory Crouch, the history of airliner shootdown incidents is said to date back to as earlier as 1938. The first incident involving the shootdown of a passenger aircraft is commonly known as the Kweilin Incident.

The Keweilin Incident took place on August 24th, 1938. The Keweilin, a Douglas DC-2 operated by the China National Aviation Corporation, was carrying 18 passengers and crew when Japanese fighter aircraft swarmed the aircraft. While the pilot managed to perform a flawless water landing, Japanese aircraft continued to swarm the aircraft utilizing machine guns mounted to the aircraft to pelt the DC-2 with bullets. While the occupants of the aircraft were able to evade machine gun fire, the majority of those on board were unable to swim. The fast flowing river current combined with aerial machine gunfire resulted in the deaths of 14 passengers. The pilot, radio operator, and an injured passenger survived the incident. The incident, understandably, lead to significant diplomatic outrage.

There have been numerous airliner shootdown events between the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in 2020 and the Keweilin Incident in 1938. Airliner shootdowns have a long history in commercial aviation. Airliners have been shot down for a variety of reasons. In some cases, airliners were shot down by accident, while others were shot down intentionally by hostile forces. Here is a brief history of airliner shootdown incidents. For the sake of simplicity, many incidents are not included in this list.

The Chungking

This is not the first time the Chungking had been involved in an airliner shootdown incident. While commercial aviation was still quite new and attacks on airliners were rare, the Chungking incident was the second such incident involving the Douglas DC-2. The Chungking previously went by the name the Keweilin, the aircraft involved in the incident detailed earlier in this post. With the pilots in command of the Keweilin having made a perfect water landing, the DC-2 was repaired and put back into service as the Chungking. However, just two years after the Keweilin incident, the Chungking was attacked by Japanese fighter pilots. The DC-2 had just landed at an airstrip in Southern China as part of a fuel stop. With a lack of radio communication at the time, the pilots in command were not aware that the Japanese military had just attacked the airstrip.

Japanese fighters circled back around to attack the Chungking striking the fuel tank, which resulted in a massive explosion. Of the 12 passengers and crew on board the aircraft, only 3 survived. The Chungking was destroyed and would never re-enter service. It was the second incident in China involving Japanese fighters attacking a civilian aircraft.



BOAC Flight 777

During World War II, commercial air travel development came to a halt. Aircraft manufacturers turned away from commercial aircraft development and invested all of their resources into building new military aircraft. However, with commercial air travel having grown significantly in the past two decades, there were still a handful of commercial flights operating in Europe. One such flight was between Lisbon, Portugal, and Bristol, England. This flight was operated by the now-defunct British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

On June 1st, 1943, a BOAC flight operated by the Ibis, a Douglas DC-3 owned and operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, departed from Lisbon’s Portela Airport en route to Whitchurch Airport near Bristol, England. There were 17 passengers and crew on board the aircraft. As the aircraft was over the Bay of Biscay located just off the coasts of Northern Spain and Western France, German Luftwaffe fighters attacked the DC-3. The pilots were unable to evade the attack and lost control of the aircraft. The Ibis crashed in the Bay of Biscay, resulting in the deaths of all 17 onboard the aircraft. It was the first such event involving a commercial aircraft in Europe.

Though Portugal had close ties to the United Kingdom during World War II, the European country remained neutral throughout the war. Remaining neutral, both allied and axis powers operated simultaneously from Lisbon’s Portela Airport. This allowed the militaries of both allied and axis powers to monitor civilian aircraft movements. According to German officials, the Ibis was attacked by Luftwaffe fighters as German military officials initially believed that the aircraft was carrying Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Germany later claimed that many of those on board the aircraft were British spies. Both claims were false. However, flights from Lisbon to Bristol often transported escaped prisoners of war and spies working for allied powers. The shootdown of BOAC 777 initially gained much coverage from allied forces with England calling the attack a war crime. However, given the fast-paced nature of World War II, the incident was quickly forgotten.


Douglas DC-3
An American Airlines Douglas DC-3 similar to the DC-3 involved in the attack.


El Al Flight 402

El Al flight 402 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from London-Heathrow Airport to Tel Aviv via Vienna an Istanbul. On July 27th, 1955, the flight was operated by a Lockheed L-148 Constellation carrying 58 passengers and crew. At the time, tensions between Western and Eastern bloc countries in Europe were high. Relations between Western and Eastern bloc countries were severely strained with the Cold War in full swing. With relations so strained, civilian aircraft belonging countries in the Western bloc were prohibited from entering Eastern bloc airspace. However, in the case of El Al flight 402, the pilots strayed over 100 miles into Bulgarian airspace triggering a military response from the Bulgarian military.

To this day, it is not clear what lead El Al flight 402 to stay so far into Eastern bloc territory. One theory claims that strong thunderstorms uncalibrated onboard instruments leading the aircraft to stay off course. However, the actions of the pilots, once alerted by Bulgarian fighter pilots, appear to disprove this theory. As the aircraft made its way further into Bulgarian airspace, two MiG-15 fighter jets were scrambled to first alert El Al flight 402 and attack the flight if needed. According to the pilots of the MiG-15 fighters, warning shots were fired in front of the aircraft signaling to the pilots to land as soon as possible. The MiG-15 fighter pilots claim that the El Al pilots responded to the warning shots appearing to prepare for landing by extending the aircraft’s flaps and beginning an initial descent. However, the aircraft quickly altered course as it attempted to return to Western bloc airspace. Proper protocol at the time required aircraft intercepted by hostile forces to land at the nearest airfield.

With El Al flight 402 failing to follow the instructions of the Bulgarian fighter pilots, the Lockheed Constellation was shot down, resulting in the deaths of all those onboard. Initially, while Bulgarian officials confirmed that they had shot down the aircraft, they did not accept responsibility. Eventually, Bulgarian officials did accept responsibility and paid out compensation to the families of those killed in the airliner shootdown incident. Surprisingly, the incident is relatively unknown though it took place during heightened tensions during the Cold War.

Aeroflot Flight 902

The crash of Aeroflot flight 902 remains unsolved to this day. Aeroflot flight 902 was a passenger flight operated using a Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-104A jetliner. The flight from Khabarovsk Airport to Vnukovo Airport in Moscow was carrying 84 passengers and crew. Details surrounding the incident are somewhat limited as the incident took place in Soviet Russia during the height of the Cold War. However, even among Soviet officials, the cause was never determined. The official cause, that the aircraft stalled as a loss of control, was highly disputed.

Aeroflot flight 902 crashed near Krasnoyarsk Airport, located in Southern Russia. According to official reports, the pilot can be heard attempting to make radio contact just prior to the crash. Officials also report hearing a strange and unidentified noise in the background during the pilot’s failed attempts to send a distress call. Investigators report finding damage that indicated that a missile had hit the side of the aircraft. Investigators speculated that anti-aircraft missiles erroneously targeted the Tupolev TU-104A leading to the crash, which killed all 84 passengers and crew. While evidence recovered at the crash site was consistent with an accident airliner shootdown, Soviet officials claimed that the pilots lost control of the aircraft resulting in an aerodynamic stall.


Aeroflot Tu-104
An Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104 similar to that involved in the incident. (Image copyright Jon Proctor)


Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114

Libyan Arab Airlines flight 114 was a flight from Tripoli, Libya, to Cairo, Egypt, via Benghazi, Libya. Flight 114 was operated by a Boeing 727-200, with 113 passengers and crew on board. As the aircraft departed from its stopover in Benghazi, a combination of poor weather conditions and equipment failure caused the Boeing 727 to stray off course entering the Sinai Peninsula, which, at the time, was controlled by Israeli forces.

Israeli fighter pilots quickly responded to the aircraft entering the occupied airspace. The pilots responding to flight 114s airspace encroachment stated that they made multiple attempts to contact the pilots without success. Missiles were fired from the pair of F-4 Phantom fighter jets. The Boeing 727 crashed over the Sinai Peninsula, killing 108 of the 113 passengers and crew on board flight 114.

The aftermath in the wake of the crash of Libyan Aran Airlines flight 114 was chaotic. While Libya and its allies did not respond by taking military action, both Libya, Israel, and the co-pilot that survived the crash provided varying accounts of the incident. Libyan officials claimed the attack was unprovoked and took place without warning. Israel, however, stated that numerous attempts were made to contact the pilots and noted that the context of heightened security lead to the decision to shoot down the airliner. Additionally, the surviving pilot of flight 114 corroborated Israel’s account of the incident, adding that because Israel and Libya had hostile relations, the crew decided not to follow Israeli orders. Ultimately, the United Nations decided against taking action against Israel while 30 members of the UN’s aviation wing, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), voted to censure Israel. The United States, a staunch ally of Israel, condemned the actions taken by Israeli forces.

Eventually, Israel’s Defense Minister acknowledged that the decision to shoot down the passenger aircraft was a mistake, and Israel paid out compensation to the victim’s families.



Korean Air Lines Flight KE902

On April 20th, 1978, Korean Air flight KE902 departed Paris-Orly Airport bound for Seoul Kimpo Airport with a stopover in Anchorage, Alaska. There were 109 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 707-321B.  While the first half of the flight was without incident, the aircraft would encounter Soviet fighters while flying over Greenland. One of the reasons for the somewhat odd flight plan was to allow the aircraft to refuel in the US without crossing into Soviet airspace. However, the flight plan did not accomplish this with Soviet fighters shooting down the aircraft near the Arctic circle.

The flight path of KE902 took the Boeing 707 almost directly over the earth’s North Magnetic Pole. Magnetic interference caused the aircraft’s instruments to display incorrect information leading the pilots to turn Southeast and into Soviet airspace. The Korean Air flight was spotted on Soviet radar, and two Sukhoi Su-15 fighters were dispatched to respond to the airspace encroachment. The Soviet fighters claim to have made numerous attempts to contact the pilots. Similarly, the Korean Air pilots also claim to have made multiple attempts to contact the Soviet fighter pilots. However, contact was never established. According to the pilots in command of Korean Air flight KE902, the pilots had followed correct protocol, turning on navigational lights and indicating that the pilots were ready to follow the Soviet fighters.

With contact unable to be established and varying accounts as to the maneuvers carried out by the Korean Air pilots, Soviet commanders on the ground ordered the Su-15 fighters to shoot down the airliner. One of the fighter pilots, Alexander Bosov, made several attempts to explain to Soviet military officials on the ground that the aircraft they had intercepted was not hostile. Bosov advised higher-ups on the ground to avoid shooting the airliner down. However, Soviet officials on the ground demanded that Bosov shootdown the airliner. Following orders, a missile was shot at the Boeing 707, causing rapid cabin decompression as well as the failure of one of the aircraft’s four engines.

Miraculously, the Korean Air pilots were able to maintain control of the airliner. The pilots of Korean Air flight 902 managed to descend to a safe altitude and through the cloud layer allowing the Boeing 707 to evade Soviet fighters and radar. After evading initial confrontation with the Soviet fighter pilots, accounts as to how long the aircraft remained in the air vary. Additionally, there are conflicting reports as to whether or not the pilots of the Korean Air Boeing 707 eventually managed to contact the Soviet military. After nearly two hours following the missile attack, the pilots of Korean Air flight KE902 safely landed the Boeing 707 on a frozen lake near the border of Soviet Russia and Finland.

Soviet troops reached the site of the ditching roughly two hours following the emergency ditching. A rescue operation commenced; however, one passenger had already succumbed to their injuries by the time Soviet troops had arrived at the crash site. All those on board, including the deceased, were transported to the small town of Kem in Northeastern Soviet Russia. The surviving passengers and crew were housed in at a military base and provided services for the two days they were kept at the base. On April 22nd, all surviving passengers, as well as the bodies of the deceased, were released and flown to Seoul via Murmansk and Helsinki. The pilot and navigator remained at the Soviet military base for questioning. Both the pilot and navigator are reported to have accepted responsibility for the incident and admitted to having violated Soviet airspace. They were subsequently pardoned and allowed to return to Seoul. An invoice for the cost of housing the surviving passengers and crew amounting to nearly $400,000 when adjusted for inflation was sent to Seoul. However, the invoice was never paid. Of the 109 occupants onboard Korean Air flight KE902, 107 survived the airliner shootdown incident with 2 occupants succumbing to their injuries.

What ultimately lead the Boeing 707 to stray so far off course is still unknown. Soviet officials did not cooperate with the international community. Instead, the aircraft was dismantled, and its black boxes were confiscated by Soviet officials. The pilots of flight 902 reported that the failure navigational instruments as a result of flying near the earth’s magnetic pole lead the aircraft to stray off course. Soviet officials, however, did not confirm nor deny these claims.


Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 airliner shootdown
A Korean Air Lines Boeing 707. (Image copyright Steve Fitzgerald via


Itavia Flight IH870

Known as the Strage di Ustica (Ustica Massacre), Itavia flight IH870 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from Bologna, Italy, to Palermo, Spain. The flight, operated with a Douglas DC-9, departed Bologna for Palermo on June 27th, 1980. There were 77 passengers and 4 crew members on board the flight. Now defunct, Itavia was historically one of Italy’s primary airlines. Itavia’s collapse is attributed to the Ustica Massacre.

Itavia flight IH870 was en route to Palermo after a nearly two-hour delay in Bologna. Roughly 50 minutes into the flight, the aircraft broke up over the Tyrrhenian Sea near the Italian island of Sicily. The Italian Air Force and rescuers quickly responded following lost contact with the aircraft. With poor visibility, the wreckage was not initially located. As visibility improved, floating debris and bodies were spotted near the area of last radar contact. All those on board died in the crash. Shortly after the wreckage was located, an investigation was launched into the cause of the crash.

Today, the cause of the crash remains highly contested, with a general consensus unable to be reached among investigators. However, in 1989, the Italian Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism released a statement on the crash of Itavia IH870, calling the incident an act of war. However, Italian officials have never identified the perpetrators of the crime. A more recent investigation determined the cause to be a bomb that was denoted on-board the aircraft.

In the 2000s, with the investigation into the cause still on-going, Italian officials claimed that French warplanes had shot down the aircraft. Italy requested that France pay for the damages as a result of the crash. However, later in the 2000s and in the early 2010s, the Italian Air Force was implicated in the falsification of documents pertaining to the investigation and perjury. Ultimately, Italian officials confirmed that it was “abundantly clear” that Itavia flight 870 had been shot down by a missile. Though, it was never made clear who fired the missile that resulted in the crash of flight 870 and the deaths of all 81 occupants.



Korean Air Flight KE007

Just five years after the airliner shootdown involving Korean Air flight 902 and the Soviet military, a second Korean Air flight, flight KE007 was involved in a similar albeit, far deadlier incident. The incident involving KE007 occurred on September 1st, 1983. The incident would become one of the tensest events of the Cold War and would change the way aircraft were tracked and navigated.

On September 1st, 1983, Korean Air flight 007 was flying from New York-JFK to Seoul via Anchorage. The Boeing 747-230B was carrying 246 passengers and 23 crew members. After an uneventful first leg of the flight, the Korean Air Boeing 747-230B departed Anchorage bound for Seoul. For the initial portion of the flight, the pilots were instructed to proceed on course to the Very High-Frequency Omni-Directional Range (VOR) radio navigational system near the primary airport serving Bethel, Alaska. The VOR near Bethel served as a waypoint and navigational aid for the pilots. As is the standard operating procedure, the crew input the frequency of the Bethel VOR into the aircraft’s autopilot settings and continued on-course to Bethel.

While the VOR’s frequency was put into the aircraft’s autopilot, the pilots still deviated off course. This was due to having deviated too far off-course for the aircraft’s inertial navigating system (INS) to automatically navigate the aircraft. The inertial navigating system (INS) is a component of an aircraft’s autopilot system and allows pilots to input waypoints like the VOR near Bethel. The INS will then track the programmed flight path created using the waypoints. Simply put, the INS will navigate an aircraft automatically without any additional pilot input. However, the INS system is not without limitations. For the INS to continue to navigate the flight path created by the pilots using waypoints, the aircraft can not have deviated more than 7.5 miles off course. In the case of KE007, the Boeing 747 had deviated more than 7.5 miles off course, and the aircraft’s INS system was unable to follow the flight path created by the pilots.

The pilots were unaware that the INS was not navigating the aircraft on course, and the flight deviated more than 160 miles off course. This brought the Korean Air flight directly into Soviet-controlled airspace and, eventually, over the Kamchatka Peninsula. With the US military conducting aerial reconnaissance at the time of the flight, Soviet military forces in the region were on high alert. MiG-23 and Sukhoi Su-15 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the aircraft shortly after it encroached Soviet airspace.

On the ground, Soviet military commanders worked to determine a proper course of action. General Valery Kamensky and General Kornukov were the two generals in command of the Soviet Far East Defense Forces at the time. General Kamensky is said to have approved of shooting down the aircraft so long as it was not a commercial passenger airliner. Kamensky recommended that the Soviet fighters work to receive confirmation as to what type of aircraft they had intercepted. General Kornukov, who would go on to become the commander of the Russian Air Force, insisted that it was not a commercial jetliner and that the Soviet fighters should attack the aircraft as soon as possible. However, by the time, KE007 had already exited Soviet airspace and into neutral waters. Soviet forces continued to track the aircraft as it tracked through neutral waters deciding against the use of force for the time being.

After an hour of tracking Korean Air flight KE007 over Soviet airspace, the aircraft re-entered Soviet airspace. Soviet fighters scrambled again to intercept the aircraft. A Sukhoi Su-25 managed to make visual contact with the Boeing 747. Multiple warning shots were fired at the Boeing 747; however, the pilots in command of the 747 were unable to see the warning shots. By this time, the Soviet military had classified Korean Air flight KE007 as a hostile military target. Shortly after making visual contact with the Boeing 747, the pilots of KE007 contacted Tokyo Area Control Center to request a higher cruise altitude. The request was granted, and the aircraft began to climb to a higher altitude. As the aircraft began to climb to its new cruising altitude, the aircraft began to slow. With the Boeing 747 slowing down as it gained altitude, the pursuing Soviet fighter pilot overshot the airliner, which was mistaken for the pilots of KE007 making an evasive maneuver.

It was at this time that the orders to shoot down the aircraft were given. Around 6:26 PM UTC, the pursuing Su-25 fired an air-to-air missile, which struck the Boeing 747. The flight crew was able to maintain control of the aircraft for roughly 5 minutes before all control was lost. The aircraft entered into a dive and broke apart. The wreckage was located in the Sea of Japan near Moneron Island. All those on board died in the crash.

Initially, the Soviet Union denied having shot down the aircraft. However, Soviet officials would confirm that they had shot down the aircraft days after the incident. Additionally, the Soviet Union conducted its own search and recovery, eventually finding a great deal of the wreckage at the surface of the Sea of Japan. However, this information, along with the aircraft’s black boxes and other evidence was kept from the international community until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1993. In the weeks following the crash, the United States used the airliner shootdown incident to demonize the Soviet Union. The crash led to increased tensions during the Cold War and created a negative image of the Soviet Union amongst Western powers and their citizens. The crash of Korean Air flight KE007 also led to an overhaul of the autopilot systems of commercial aircraft, making them more ergonomic for pilots. The crash was also one of the motivations for the Reagan administration to make the US-developed Global Positioning System (GPS) available worldwide.


Korean Air Flight Shot Down Russia
A Korean Air Boeing 747 similar to that involved in an airliner shootdown incident near the Soviet Union. (Image by Udo K. Haafke)


Iran Air Flight IR655

On July 3rd, 1988, as the Iran-Iraq War was coming to an end, an Iran Air flight was flying a regularly scheduled passenger route from Tehran to Dubai via Bandar Abbas, Iran. The flight, Iran Air flight IR655 was operated by an Airbus A300B2 with 290 passengers and crew on board. The aircraft had departed Bandar Abbas and was en route to Dubai for the flight’s final leg. As the aircraft was traveling over the Straight of Hormuz in Iranian airspace, the USS Vincennes, a US Naval missile cruiser, intercepted the aircraft on radar.

To this day, the United States and Iran dispute how the incident unfolded. Various accounts have been provided. However, the account provided by the United States was most widely accepted. The United States claims that the crew onboard the USS Vincennes intercepted Iran Air flight IR655; however, the flight appeared on radar as an F-14 Tomcat. Though many crew members on board the USS Vincennes claim that the Iran Air passenger flight was using a military squawk code, this was not the case. Throughout the entirety of the flight, Iran Air flight IR655 had been transmitting squawk codes used by commercial aircraft. Nevertheless, the crew of the USS Vincennes treated Iran Air flight IR655 as a hostile military aircraft.

Though Iran Air 655 was traveling in Iranian airspace, the USS Vincennes continued to monitor the aircraft making numerous attempts to communicate with the pilots. The majority of the attempts made to contact the pilots were done so using military frequencies with just three being made over frequencies accessible to commercial airline pilots. The attempts to communicate were not successful. With Iran Air flight IR655 unable to communicate with the crew of the USS Vincennes, an order to shoot down the aircraft was given. The USS Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles at the Iran Air flight. When the missile made contact with the Airbus A300, the aircraft disintegrated, and debris hurdled into the Straight of Hormuz. All 290 occupants were killed instantly. Additionally, the aircraft’s black boxes were never recovered.

Initially, the United States announced that it had shot down a hostile F-14 fighter jet, however, shortly thereafter, it confirmed that it had shot down an Airbus passenger jet. While the United States government would ultimately claim responsibility for erroneously targeting the passenger airliner and issue an apology, the Iranian government claims that action was intentional and that the US knew it was targeting a passenger aircraft. The incident created further animosity amongst the US and Iran. It also led to international condemnation of the United States’ decision to use military force on a passenger aircraft. The final US report on the incident claimed that psychological stress incurred by crew members on board the USS Vincennes likely contributed to the poor decision to shoot down Iran Air flight IR655.


Iran Air A300 Airliner Shootdown missile incident
An Iran Air Airbus A300 like that aircraft shot down in the Straight of Hormuz. (Image by Khashayar Talebzadeh on


DHL 2003 Terrorist Attack

On November 22nd, 2003, the War on Terror was in full swing. Terrorism was a significant concern across the world. This was especially true in Baghdad, Iraq, where a DHL Express Airbus A300B4 cargo jet is preparing to take off bound for Muharraq, Bahrain. Shortly after takeoff from Baghdad International Airport, the DHL Express A300B4 with 3 crew members onboard is struck by a surface-to-air missile. The missile impacted the left wingtip of the aircraft severing the hydraulic lines used in the systems that control the aircraft. Without hydraulics, the DHL flight crew is unable to fly the aircraft.

Following the attack, the pilots have extremely limited control of the aircraft. After 10 minutes of experimenting with how to maneuver the aircraft, the pilots find that they are able to use the thrust controls to control the aircraft’s pitch, altitude, and speed. Using the aircraft’s thrust controls, the pilots managed to return to the aircraft and carry out a successful emergency landing. The landing is nearly flawless, and all three crew members survive without injury.

Video footage immediately surfaces from a French media outlet that was documenting an insurgency group designated as a terrorist organization. The video shows the insurgents using a shoulder-mounted missile launcher to lock on to and attack the DHL Express flight. While French journalists accompanied the insurgency group during the attack, the attackers were never identified.


DHL Baghdad Airliner Shootdown
An Airbus A300B4 similar to the DHL A300B4 that was shot down in Baghdad, Iraq. (Image by Aero Icarus)


Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

On July 17th, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The Boeing 777-200ER is carrying 298 passengers and crew on board the nearly 12-hour flight. At the same time, tensions between Ukraine and Russia are at an all-time high as Russian forces had recently annexed the Crimean peninsula. The War of Donbas is the result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and tensions between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian militants concentrated in Eastern Ukraine. While many airlines had altered their flight paths to avoid the region, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 did not. The flight path of MH17 brought the aircraft directly over the war-torn region.

As flight MH17 was cruising over Donetsk, Ukraine, a surface-to-air missile strikes the aircraft. The Boeing 777-200ER immediately breaks up into multiple pieces, and the debris hurdles towards the ground. All those onboard die instantly. Almost simultaneously, footage of pro-Russian militants celebrating an attack surfaces. Radio transmissions between Russian forces and pro-Russian militants also surface. It quickly becomes apparent that the aircraft had been shot down by pro-Russian militants. This is later confirmed by a joint investigative task force led by the Dutch. Additional intelligence also confirms that Russian forces provided a pro-Russian militia group with a Buk surface-to-air missile system earlier in the day. The Buk system was used to attack the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER. While the investigation revealed that the attack was partly the fault of the Russian military, Russian denies any responsibility for the airliner shootdown.


Malaysia Airlines MH17 missile attack airliner shootdown
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER similar to that involved in the crash of MH17. (Image by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt)


Airliner Shootdown Incidents – The Bottom Line

The unintentional shoot down of Ukraine Airlines flight PS752 is far from the first time that a passenger aircraft has been caught in the crossfire. Since the inception of commercial air travel, passenger aircraft have become unintentional and even intentional targets of missile attacks. While there is still doubt as to what lead Iran to shoot down a passenger aircraft, the incident mirrors past incidents. Additionally, though commercial air travel has become unbelievably safe. However, so long as there is military conflict, commercial aircraft could become the target of missile attacks,

This list was compiled by information available on Wikipedia. As previously mentioned, this is not a complete list of airliner shootdown incidents, nor is the Wikipedia article a complete list. Corrections, comments, and suggestions are welcomed and should be sent to

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