USCGC Munro And The Korean Airliner (KAL-007)
By Jack Crowley
The following is a brief summary of the US Coast Guard Cutter Munro’s involvement in the Search, Rescue and Salvage operation of Korean Airline KAL-007 which was shot down on September 1, 1983.
The Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WHEC-724) departed her home port of Honolulu, Hawaii on August 12th 1983 with Captain John Linnon as the Commanding Officer. The ship was scheduled for Alaska Fishery Patrol (ALPAT) and Conduct Operations with the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency (JMSA.)
CGC MUNRO - Official USCG Photo
After our underway training with the Japanese we were Guest of their Country in the city of Tokyo. Our visit was to be between the third and ninth of September for R&R. On the first of September we received word that a Korean 747 Airline was shot down in the territory of the Soviet Union off the Coast of Sakhalin Island (USSR) in the Sea of Japan. On the fifth of September our R&R liberty was canceled and we were underway to assist in the Search and Rescue of KAL-007. We arrived in the area of the search on the seventh of September.
The KAL-007 departed New York en route to Seoul Korea carrying 269 Passengers and crew with 72 Americans on board. It is believed that the plane had drifted into the air space of the Soviet Union and that’s why it was shot down.
The Munro was called to assist because of her sonar capabilities, search abilities and the professionalism of the Captain and crew of the ship and the Coast Guard. The seventh Fleet requested our presence and we were ordered by the Coast Guard to assist. The ship was outfitted with massive winches and equipment of Side Scan Sonar for the search.
The Cutter Munro was the only U.S. Coast Guard Ship involved in the Search along with about eleven Naval Ships, Korean, and Japanese Ships.
During the Search the Munro rescued four crew members from a Navy Seahawk Helicopter that crashed in the Sea of Japan and sunk in 3,000 foot of water. The Munro steamed with the full power of her combustion turbine engines and arrived on scene within one hour of the ditch. Fortunately the four rescued crew members only had minor injuries.
Heavy weather and Soviet interference hampered the search operations. The Soviet Ships, up to twenty two at one time, continually harassed the operation by forcing the US ships to maneuver to avoid possible collision. As you can imagine the difficulty in maneuvering a ship while dragging an underwater side scanning sonar in order to avoid a collision.
On the fifth of November the search for KAL-007 was terminated (over sixty days of search) on this day the Soviets still had fourteen ships in the area doing what they’ve been doing all along, harassing and hindering the quest for KAL-007.
On the sixth of November we steamed for Yokosuka, Japan for a much needed R&R. On the twentieth of November we sailed into Honolulu, Hawaii to a warm Aloha Welcome. What started out to be a routine patrol of about sixty days turned out to be one hundred days..
It is my belief that the KAL-007 was shot down either within twelve miles of the Soviet Union's coast or it went down on the Soviet Union's soil. To my knowledge, no bodies were ever recovered. I believe that the estimated cost of the operation for the United States was approximately twenty two and a half million dollars.
The Cutter Munro played a key part in the overall Operation of KAL-007. Because of the Professionalism and Seamanship of the Boatswain Mates, Engineers and Seaman the Munro was called on for Small Boat operations daily. They were used for everything from being a water taxi to Couriers for the Fleet. It’s been said (and from some Navy sources also) that the Munro was the BACK BONE of the whole operation in more ways then one.
Because of the Cutter Munro’s involvement in the KAL-007, the Cutter and her Crew was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation and letters of Appreciation from the Minister of National Defense from the Republic of Korea.
I was fortunate in being one of the cutters crew members as a Chief Boatswain Mate. Despite the long search, long hours, Harassment and Inclement Weather the Moral of the crew was fairly high. This is because we had a skipper, Captain John Linnon, that was and still is a Professional Mariner who knew his crew's needs. The whole crew said that they would sail with him any day.
This is a story the way I remember it.
Written on 29 March 2004
BMCS Jack Crowley is a retired USCG Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate.
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