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What Passenger Flights Have Been Shot Down?

A Malaysian airliner that crashed in Ukraine, reportedly after it was shot down, would not be the first passenger jet to be downed by a hostile action.
Image: This KAL 747 airliner, Korean Airlines Flight 007, was shot down Sept. 1, 1983 by a Soviet fighter plane, killing all 269 persons on board.
A Korean Boeing 747 passenger plane sits on the runway at a Hawaiian airport in 1982. This KAL 747 airliner, Korean Airlines Flight 007, was shot down Sept. 1, 1983 by a Soviet fighter plane, killing all 269 persons on board. (AP Photo)AP File

A Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed on Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border, allegedly after it was shot down, according to one government adviser, wouldn't be the first downed by hostile action. While passenger shootdowns are rare, there have been at least a dozen in modern history — a number of which involved the Soviets — and many of which have created international rifts.

Here is a list of some of the more notable passenger plane shootdowns over the decades:

June 14, 1940: Kaleva

In the early days of World War II, a Finnish commercial flight was shot down by two Soviet Ilyushin DB-3T bombers while en route from Tallinn, Estonia, to Helsinki, Finland. The Junkers Ju 52/3m airliner, called the Kaleva, carried nine passengers, including two crew, according to Historic Wings, an online aviation magazine. One of the passengers was Henry W. Antheil Jr., an American diplomat and courier who was carrying secret documents Americans had obtained about the Soviets' plan to occupy the Baltic States. The Soviets learned that he was carrying diplomatic pouches, and the two bombers downed the passenger plane about 10 minutes after it took off. All nine aboard were killed.

July 27, 1955: El Al Flight 402

Israeli jet El Al Flight 402, an international passenger flight, was flying from Vienna, Austria, to Tel Aviv, Israel via Istanbul when it strayed into Bulgarian airspace. The plane was shot down by two Bulgarian MiG-15 jet fighters and crashed near Petrich, Bulgaria, killing all 51 passengers and seven crew aboard. The shootdown of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation four-engine propliner happened during a time of strained relations in the Cold War between the Eastern Bloc and the West.

Feb. 21, 1973: Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114

Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114, bound from Tripoli to Cairo after a brief layover in Benghazi, drifted into Israeli airspace over the Sinai Peninsula. The plane, which had 113 people on board, repeatedly ignored requests to change its flight path while two Phantom fighter jets were scrambled to identify the aircraft. The Israeli jets fired warning shots after the pilots failed to understand the commands to follow them back to an Israel Air Force base, according to the Jerusalem Post, and then made the decision to fire 20mm cannons at the plane. The plane crashed in Sinai's sand dunes, killing all but five people on board — mostly Libyans and Egyptians, as well as one American.

April 20, 1978: Korean Air Lines Flight 902

The commercial airline diverted from its planned course from Paris to Seoul, straying over the Soviet Union. After being shot at by an interceptor aircraft, the plane made a forced landing in the middle of the night on a frozen lake. Two of the 97 passengers were killed by hostile fire.

Sept. 1, 1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007

In perhaps the most infamous passenger flight downing, the flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage was shot down when the plane, set on autopilot, drifted off its course and headed toward Soviet territory. At least one Soviet air-to-air missile struck the plane, killing all 240 passengers and 29 crew aboard. Two Sukhoi Su-15 fighter jets were ordered to intercept the airliner, and warning shots were fired, but the pilots were apparently oblivious to them. The missile was fired without any effort to contact the airliner by radio, something that the Soviet pilots later got reprimanded by the International Civil Aviation Organization for. The organization also said pilot error contributed to the incident, which further ignited tensions during the Cold War.

Korean Airlines equipment procurement section chief Suk Jin-Ku examines a piece of aircraft debris at Wakkania Police station in Japan on Sept. 12, 1983. Suk said the piece, found ashore at Sarubetsu, 60 kilometers east of Wakkanai, came from the flight control surface of the Korean Airlines Flight 007 shot down by a Soviet fighter near Kakhalin on Sept. 1.MIKAMI / AP File

July 3, 1988: Iran Air Flight 655 Aircraft

The commercial flight was flying from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, when it was shot down by U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes. The USS Vincennes was stationed in the Persian Gulf and shot down the flight with a surface-to-air missile, killing all 274 passengers and 16 crew aboard and furthering distrust between the U.S. and Iran. The incident happened because the Vincennes mistook the civil airliner for an F-14 fighter jet, possibly due to the flight allegedly failing to identify itself or perhaps just as an error in the heat of battle.

September 1993: Transair Georgia shootdowns

Over the course of three days in September 1993, three separate civilian Transair Georgia planes were shot by missiles in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, Georgia, killing 136 people in total.

October 4, 2001: Siberian Airlines Flight 1812

The flight was headed from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, Russia, when it was shot down over the Black Sea, killing all 78 aboard. Ukraine did not initially take responsibility, but later admitted its military accidentally shot down the plane with a surface-to-air missile from the Crimea peninsula during a military exercise.