The article describes accidents and incidents on Korean Air and its predecessor companies Korean National Airlines and KAL. Korean Air had many fatal accidents between 1970 and 1999, during which time it wrote off 16 aircraft in serious incidents and accidents with the loss of 700 lives. The last fatal accident, Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 in December 1999 led to a review of how Korean cultural attitudes had contributed to its poor crash history. Since then, safety has greatly improved and the airline ranks among the best in the 21st century.
2 August 1976 – (Boeing 707) cargo flight departed from Tehran for Seoul when, on takeoff from runway 29, the aircraft inexplicably deviated from the Standard Instrument Departure (SID) procedure and drifted to the right instead of performing a left turnout. It continued and struck mountains at an altitude of 2,020m (6,630 feet). Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 0 Deaths: 5 (All Crew) Airframe: Written Off
20 April 1978 – Flight 902 (Boeing 707) departed from Paris for Anchorage and flew to within 780 km of the North Pole when Canadian officials alerted the crew they were off course. They changed course, but worsened the situation by setting a course directly across the Barents Sea and Soviet airspace. The plane was initially recognized by Soviet anti-aircraft defense radars as a Boeing 747. Sukhoi Su-15TM jets were sent to intercept. When both jets were flying next to the Korean airliner, the Korean captain claimed he slowed the plane and initiated landing lights. Nevertheless, the Su-15 crews were ordered to shoot down the plane. According to US intelligence sources the Soviet pilot tried for several minutes to convince his superiors to cancel the attack on the civilian airliner. After an additional order two P-60 rockets were launched. The first missed but the second severely damaged the left wing and shrapnel punctured the fuselage, causing rapid decompression that killed two passengers. The Korean pilot initiated an emergency descent to 5,000 feet and entered clouds. Both Soviet jets lost the Korean plane in the clouds. The aircraft continued at low altitude, crossing the Kola Peninsula while searching for a landing opportunity. With night quickly coming on, several unsuccessful attempts were made before the plane landed on the ice of Lake Korpijärvi, near Kem, USSR. All occupants were rescued by Soviet helicopters. Damage: Substantial Injuries: Multiple Deaths: 2 (2 of 197 passengers) Airframe: Written Off
19 November 1980 – Flight 015 (Boeing 747) departed from Anchorage for Seoul when the aircraft struck a retaining embankment on the edge of the airport. The plane bounced back on to runway 14, broke apart, and caught fire and was incinerated. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: Multiple Deaths: 15 (one on the ground, 6 of 14 crew and 8 of 198 passengers, Airframe: Written Off
1 September 1983 – Flight 007 (Boeing 747-230B) departed from New York City for Seoul via Anchorage. At 5:00 AM the flight was cleared directly to the Bethel VOR beacon and then on to the Romeo 20 route. The pilot mistakenly diverted from its intended course and passed 12 miles north of the Bethel beacon. While approaching the Kamchatka peninsula, six SovietMiG-23 fighters were scrambled. Because a U.S. Air ForceBoeing RC-135 intelligence plane was flying in the area east off Kamchatka, the Soviets may have assumed the 747 radar echo to be the RC-135. The flight left Soviet airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk and the fighters returned to their base. Passing abeam the Nippi beacon (four hours after take-off), the aircraft was 185 miles off course and headed for Sakhalin. Two Soviet Su-15 'Flagon' fighters were scrambled from the Dolinsk-Sokol airbase. At 18:16 UTC, flight 007 re-entered Soviet airspace. At 18:22, for the second time, Soviet command ordered destruction of the target. Two air-to-air missiles were launched by one of the fighters and one struck the Boeing at 18:26. Cabin pressure was lost and the aircraft suffered control problems, causing the plane, after a 12-minute flight, to spiral into the sea near Moneron Island. The event was denounced by the US Reagan Administration as a deliberate and wanton act of murder by an "evil empire." Boris Yeltsin handed the black boxes to the FAA. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 0 Deaths: 269 (23 of 23 Crew and 246 of 246 Passengers) Airframe: Written Off
23 December 1983 – Cargo Flight 084 (McDonnell Douglas DC-10) from Anchorage to Los Angeles, while taxiing out in fog, the Korean crew became disoriented and ended up on the wrong runway. During the takeoff run, the aircraft collided head-on with Southcentral Air Flight 59, a Piper Pa-31 which was taking off from runway 6L-24R for a flight to Kenai. The nine occupants of the South Central Air flight were injured. The DC-10 overran the runway by 1,434 feet and came to rest 40 feet right of the extended centerline. Federal Investigators determined that the Korean pilot had failed to follow accepted procedures during taxi - causing disorientation while selecting the runway. The pilot also failed to use the compass to confirm his position. Ultimately the pilot’s decision to proceed with takeoff without ever knowing if he was on the correct runway caused the impact. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 0 Deaths: 0(0 of 3 crew) Airframe: Written Off
18 May 1985 – (Boeing 727) from Seoul to Jeju, while in flight a lone hijacker demanded to be taken to North Korea. After the hijacker was overpowered, the aircraft was diverted to Kwangju, South Korea, where he was arrested by the authorities
29 November 1987 – Flight 858 (Boeing 707-3B5C) from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok, 122 km (76 mi) northwest of Tavoy, Burma (in the Andaman Sea) the aircraft exploded and disintegrated. Investigation revealed that a bomb explosion aboard caused the crash. Two saboteurs disguised as passengers, who had deplaned at Abu Dhabi, left a radio and liquor bottle containing hidden explosives in the overhead rack at row 7. South Korea accused Kim Jong-Il, son of then-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, of ordering the 1987 bombing of Flight 858. No direct evidence has emerged to link Kim to the bombing, but a North Korean agent, Kim Hyon Hui, confessed to planting a bomb, saying the operation was ordered by Kim Jong-Il personally. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 0 Deaths: 115 (11 of 11 Crew and 104 of 104 Passengers) Airframe: Written Off.
27 July 1989 – Flight 803 (McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30) from Jeddah to Tripoli. The aircraft initially departed Seoul on a flight to Tripoli with intermediate stops at Bangkok and Jeddah. Visibility was varying between 100–800 feet and the runway 27 ILS had been reported unserviceable. On final approach to runway 27 the aircraft crashed short of the runway, striking 4 houses and a number of cars. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: Multiple Deaths: 79 (4 Ground Fatalities, 3 of 18 Crew and 72 of 181 Passengers), Airframe: Written Off
25 November 1989 – Fokker F-28 Fellowship 4000 on a regularly scheduled flight from Seoul to Ulsan, improper flight preparation caused wing icing which, in turn, cause the number one engine to lose power on take-off. The pilot immediately lost directional control and aborted the take-off. However, the abort was so abrupt that the aircraft overran the runway and exploded in flames. The airframe was not salvageable after the fire was eventually extinguished. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: Multiple Deaths: 0 Airframe: Written Off
13 June 1991 – (Boeing 727) from Jeju to Daegu, the aircraft performed an unexpected gear-up landing at Daegu. The crew failed to read out the landing procedure checklist and therefore didn't select the gear down option. Subsequent investigation revealed that the pilot instructed the co-pilot to pull the fuse from the warning system because the repeated warnings that the landing gear was not deployed were, "irritating and distracting," him as he attempted to land. With the warning horn disabled, the Korean pilot brought the plane in and slid down the length of the runway on the central structural rib in the belly of the aircraft. Damage: Substantial Injuries: 0 Deaths: 0 Airframe: Written Off
10 August 1994 – Korean Air Flight 2033 (Airbus A300) from Seoul to Jeju, the flight approached faster than usual to avoid potential windshear. Fifty feet above the runway the co-pilot, who was not flying the aircraft, decided that there was insufficient runway left to land and tried to perform a go-around against the captain's wishes. The aircraft touched down 1,773 meters beyond the runway threshold. The aircraft could not be stopped on the remaining 1,227 meters of runway and overran at a speed of 104 knots. After striking the airport wall and a guard post at 30 knots, the aircraft burst into flames and was incinerated. The cabin crew was credited with safely evacuating all passengers although only half of the aircraft's emergency exits were usable. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 0 Deaths: 0 Airframe: Written Off
22 September 1994 – Flight 916F (Boeing 747) from Zürich to Busan. Eight days prior, the aircraft had encountered a severe hailstorm over Elba, Italy which led to a near miss incident. The aircraft sustained severe damage to the radome, cockpit windows and engines but managed to reach Zürich safely. Some repair work was done, but the aircraft needed to be ferried to Busan for final repairs. Boeing released the aircraft with some take-off performance changes, which included a limited gross weight by 70,000 pounds and increased takeoff speeds for V1, V2 and VR by 15, 17 and 14 knots respectively. The aircraft was cleared for a Runway 14 takeoff and ZUE 5P departure. After a long take-off run, the aircraft lifted off the runway at the very end and climbed slowly. At 900 meters beyond the runway end the aircraft cleared some adjacent buildings at fewer than 50 meters. Subsequent investigation found that despite clear instructions to reduce weight, the crew had overloaded the aircraft by 86,700 pounds. Damage: N/A Injuries: 0 Deaths: 0 Airframe: Repaired.
6 August 1997 – Korean Air Flight 801 (Boeing 747-3B5) from Seoul to Agana, Guam, The crew attempted a night-time approach to Guam runway 06L. Flight 801 had descended 800 feet below the prescribed altitude, struck the 709 feet Nimitz Hill at a height of 650 feet and crashed in a jungle valley, breaking up and bursting into flames. Subsequent investigation found that the captain's failure to adequately brief and execute the non-precision approach and the first officer's and flight engineer's failure to effectively monitor and cross-check the captain's execution of the approach were directly responsible for the crash. It was the first fatal crash of the Boeing 747-300. Contributing factors were the captain's fatigue and Korean Air's inadequate flight crew training. (See article:Korean Air Flight 801) Damage: Destroyed Injuries: Multiple/Severe Deaths: 228 (22 of 23 Crew and 206 of 231 Passengers) Airframe: Written Off
5 August 1998 – Korean Air Flight 8702 (Boeing 747-400) from Tokyo to Seoul. The flight departed Tokyo at 16:50 for a flight to Seoul, scheduled to arrive there at 19:20. Inclement weather at Seoul forced the flight crew to divert to Jeju. The aircraft took off from Cheju at 21:07 bound for Seoul. On landing in Seoul, the 747 bounced multiple times and slid 100 meters off the runway before coming to a stop in a grassy area. Damage: Substantial Injuries: minor Deaths: 0 Airframe: Written Off
15 March 1999 – Korean Air Flight 1533 (McDonnell Douglas MD-83) from Seoul to Pohang departed for Pohang. Weather at Pohang was poor with degraded visibility and gusty 25 knot winds. The pilot failed at the first attempt to land. After the second approach the plane touched down, but overran the runway. The aircraft skidded through 10 antennas, a reinforced barbed wire fence and came to rest against an embankment. The landing broke the fuselage in half. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: Multiple Deaths: 0 Airframe: Written Off
15 April 1999 – Korean Air Cargo Flight 6316 (McDonnell Douglas MD-11) from Shanghai to Seoul took off despite the Korean co-pilot’s repeated misunderstanding and miscommunication to the pilot of the height given by the tower in meters, while being understood in feet. The aircraft climbed to 4,500 feet and the captain, after receiving two wrong affirmative answers from the first officer that the required altitude should be 1,500 feet, thought that the aircraft was 3,000 feet too high. The captain then pushed the control column abruptly forward causing the aircraft to start a rapid descent. Neither was able to recover from the dive. The airplane plummeted into an industrial development zone 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) southwest of Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. The plane plunged to the ground, hitting housing for migrant workers and exploded. Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 37 on ground Deaths: 8 (all 3 crew and 5 on ground) Airframe: Written Off
22 December 1999 – Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 (Boeing 747-2B5F) from London to Milan The crew banked the aircraft into the ground while multiple audible warnings were sounding. Subsequent investigation revealed that the pilots did not respond appropriately to warnings during the climb after takeoff despite prompts from the flight engineer. The commanding pilot maintained a left roll control input, rolling the aircraft to approximately 90 of left bank and there was no control input to correct the pitch attitude throughout the turn. The first officer either did not monitor the aircraft attitude during the climbing turn or, having done so, did not alert the commander to the extreme unsafe attitude that developed and the maintenance activity at London/Stansted was misdirected. Investigators subsequently suggested, among other things, that Korean Air alter training materials and safety education to meet the "unique" Korean culture. (See article:Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509) Damage: Destroyed Injuries: 0 Deaths: 4 (all crew) Airframe: Written Off
6 January 2007 - Korean Air Lines Flight 769 from Seoul to Akita, Japan, landed on an unoccupied taxiway instead of the intended runway 10, which was the airport's only runway. The Boeing 737-900 aircraft with 124 passengers and 9 crew landed without any injury or damage.
15 April 2013 – Korean Air Lines Flight 17 from Seoul to Los Angeles. One of the passengers beat the flight crew while the aircraft was en route.
5 December 2014 – Nut rage incident. Korean Air Flight 86 from New York City to Seoul, returned to the gate before the flight start taxiing because Heather Cho, Korean Air's executive vice president and daughter of company chairman Cho Yang-ho, demanded the removal of a crew member from a flight for failing to serve macadamia nuts on a plate.
^See Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers (2008), pp. 177-223 for a discussion of this turnaround in airline safety. Gladwell notes (p. 180) that the hull-loss rate for the airline was 4.79 per million departures, a full 17 times greater than United Airlines which at the same time had a loss rate of just 0.27 per million departures.