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A Korean resident of Japan raises a clenched fist and shouts during a demonstration outside the Soviet embassy in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 1983. Protests in Japan and other countries continue as the Soviets acknowledge shooting down South Korean airliner Boeing 747, KAL 007, which strayed into Soviet airspace and 269 persons died. / Katasumi Kasahara, AP

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Thursday was a déjà vu moment for me: As a journalist in Tokyo, I covered the Soviet Union's downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983.

Those of us reporting the story at Pacific Stars & Stripes were momentarily cheered when the Japanese military reported that Soviet planes had forced KAL 007 to land on Sakhalin Island, and all aboard were safe.

The joy turned to devastation when the report proved false ?? that Soviet fighters had downed the airliner, killing all 269 aboard.

It turned out the KAL 007 had strayed over Soviet territory because a pilot had misprogrammed the jet's navigation system for the Anchorage-to-Seoul leg of the New York-to-Seoul flight. That gave the Soviets a pretext to shoot it down.

There are similarities between the KAL 007 and Malaysian Airlines 17 situations but also major differences.

An important similarity is that both occurred during a time of heightened tension between Russia (or the USSR) and the West.

President Ronald Reagan was presiding over the biggest U.S. military buildup in decades when KAL 007 went down. In addition, the United States had just deployed Pershing II nuclear missiles in Europe aimed at Soviet territory. And it had held a big naval exercise off the Soviet Far East that had rattled Moscow.

Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov and Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov believed Reagan could order a nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union at any time, according to disclosures in later years.

The downing of Malaysia Airlines 17 comes at the most fractious moment in U.S.-Russian relations since the Reagan years, stemming from the Russian takeover of Crimea and the war in Ukraine's Russia-leaning east.

A key difference between the two incidents is that the Soviets knew KAL 007 was a civilian jet while preliminary evidence indicates Ukrainian separatists shot down Flight 17 thinking it was a Ukrainian military plane. The separatists deny shooting down the aircraft.

Years after the downing of KAL 007, Soviet pilot Genadi Osipovich said he could see the jet was a Boeing 747. He said he fired on it because the Soviet command ordered him to. He also said the United States could have converted the 747 into a military craft.

In fact, an American surveillance plane was flying off the Soviet Far East at the time ?? and the Soviets may have mistaken KAL 007 for the spycraft.

The Soviets lied for five days about downing KAL 007, saying at first that they didn't even know a plane was in the area. They fessed up when the United States and Japan produced tapes of Soviet pilots' radio transmissions.

Voice recordings may prove the Ukrainian separatists' undoing as well. They have placed blame on the Ukrainian military. Ukraine has released recordings of phone conversations between separatists and a Russian intelligence officer in which the separatists admit downing an airliner.

It took years for the full story of how KAL 007 was brought down to surface. It may not take that long for MH17.

Foster is a special correspondent for USA TODAY based in Ukraine.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Voices: Downed plane brings sense of deja vu

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