Lara Prendergast Lara Prendergast

Spectator archive: A history of passenger planes shot down

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine after being hit by a missile. It’s not the first civilian flight to have been shot down in error though. Here are four other times mistakes have been made in the past 60 years, and the Spectator’s responses to them:

Iran Air Flight 655 (1988)

iran On 3 July 1988, as the Iran-Iraq war was drawing to a close, a US military ship, the USS Vincennes, mistook Iran Air Flight 655 for a fighter jet and launched a missile at the plane. 290 people were killed:

It is ironic that the nation which has done most in the world to further the idea of inalienable human rights should have destroyed 290 innocent lives by shooting down a civilian aircraft on the very eve of the anniversary of its foundation. There were extenuating circumstances: a warship in a zone of conflict is not a propitious environment for calm ethical debate. The killing was a mistake and not one made callously. But such is the scale of the tragedy that a thorough re-examination not only of the events themselves but of the policy that led to them is surely required. This does not mean that the protestations of the present regime in Iran have to be taken seriously in any moral sense. A government that sends 12-year-old children to an unnecessary war is not one that can plausibly claim much concern for the welfare of its citizens, even if it had not also systematically violated their rights in almost every conceivable way. The labeling of the victims as martyrs by Iranian statements demonstrates that their deaths are seen largely as a political and propaganda tool against the Americans: for martyrs are people who choose avoidable death for the furtherance of a cause, not migrant labourers accidentally shot down in a commercial aircraft while returning to work.

The Spectator 9 July 1988

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983)

jaoOn 1 September 1983, the USSR shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, en route from New York City to Seoul.

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Lara Prendergast
Written by
Lara Prendergast
Lara Prendergast is executive editor of The Spectator. She hosts two Spectator podcasts, The Edition and Table Talk, and edits The Spectator’s food and drink coverage.

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