Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – Not the first, likely not the last


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Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down last ween while flying over Ukraine on the 17th of July.

Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200

Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200

The Boeing 777 crashed in rebel held areas, and all 283 passengers and 15 crew members are presumed dead.

There has been widespread outcry over the incident. President Obama termed it an ‘outrage of unspeakable proportions,’ pointing the finger at Russian armed and supported rebels. Mr Putin in turn blames Ukraine, citing that it is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safety of civilian flights in its airspace.

Whoever is to blame, it is indeed a tragedy. All loss of life is tragic.

It is especially tragic when a civilian plane that poses no threat to anyone is shot down by a military.

Unfortunately, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is not the first civilian flight to be shot down in this manner. 

There have been several such incidents in the past.

Korean Air 007 Flight Path

Korean Air 007 Flight Path

In september 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 from Anchorage to Seoul was shot down by Soviet jet fighters, killing all 269 passengers and crew on board. The Boeing 747 had strayed into Soviet airspace. The incident sparked a new wave of tensions in the Cold War.



In July 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 from Tehran to Dubai was shot down by a US Navy ship in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 on board. The Airbus A300 had taken off from an airport which was also used as a military base. The US investigation revealed that the plane had been misidentified as an Iran Air Force F14.


There are unfortunately several other such incidents. El Al Fligt 402 was shot down by Bulgarian Migs in 1955. Libyan Airlines Flight 114 was shot down by the Israeli Air Force in 1973. And most recently, Serbian Airlines Flight 1812 was shot down by the Ukrainian forces in 2001! 

International Air Travel is by and large safer today than in years past. In fact, many of these incidents sparked changes in safety standards and technology, leading to improvements that go largely unnoticed till a new tragedy strikes. Of note, in the aftermath of the Korean Airlines incident, the US government made the US military navigation system (now known widely as GPS) available for non military use. 

The debate over Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is not over. There is plenty of blame to go around. The Russian sponsored rebels who fired the missile. The inability of the Ukraine government to secure its airspace. And the decision by Malaysian Airlines (and several others) to continue to fly over an active war zone. None of this is any consolation to the families of the victims.

I will say this though. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was not the first civilian flight to be shot down. And if history is any indicator of the future, it probably won’t be the last either. 


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