The Tokyo District Court ordered Korean Air to pay 130 million yen in damages July 16 to family members of four Japanese killed when a KAL jetliner was shot down by a Soviet fighter in 1983.
Presiding Judge Ko Ito said the airline was responsible for flying the 747 over Soviet territory, including important military installations. KAL flight 007 was shot down Sept. 1, 1983, over the Russian Far East island of Sakhalin after reportedly being warned that it had violated Soviet airspace.
The plaintiffs, consisting of seven relatives of the victims, had originally demanded 510 million yen in damages. It is the first time a Japanese court has ruled on the liability of an air carrier to passengers and consignors in cases of accident outside Japan.
The plaintiffs, together with 20 other relatives of 10 crash victims, filed a joint suit against KAL in August 1985. All but the current seven plaintiffs reached compromises with the carrier or have withdrawn their claims.
In a petition, the plaintiffs claimed KAL had recognized the danger of planes being shot down if they entered Soviet airspace, because a KAL plane had been intercepted in Soviet territory in 1978. KAL argued it was unable to foresee the danger of its plane being shot down without warning because it is banned from using civilian aircraft for military purposes. The court ruled that the crew of the plane had not been aware of trouble with the inertial navigation system, which had been malfunctioning for some time.
The plane was shot down after it flew off course while on its way to Seoul via Anchorage from New York. All 269 passengers and crew members, including 27 Japanese, were killed. In 1993, the International Civil Aviation Organization concluded that the KAL plane had made a navigational error that it did not notice and inadvertently entered Soviet airspace over the island. A Soviet fighter mistook the plane for a U.S. spy aircraft and shot it down, the ICAO said.