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Relatives Of KAL 007 Victims Mark Anniversary Of Aircraft Downing

September 2, 1988 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Relatives of Americans who died in the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner on Friday called for a full congressional investigation into unanswered questions still surrounding the 1983 tragedy.

″It would be a dangerous precedent to let this matter fade into oblivion,″ said Nan Oldham of Bethesda, Md., co-chair of a family members’ organization, at a news conference marking the fifth anniversary of the air disaster.

The Sept. 1, 1983, downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 claimed the lives of all 269 people aboard, including 63 Americans.

The Korean jet, which had strayed more than 350 miles off course, was shot down after passing over Soviet territory while on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seoul, South Korea.

Mrs. Oldham, who lost her 27-year-old son, John, told reporters: ″We feel betrayed by our government whose silence in this case, rationalized by the questionable claim of national security concerns, is beginning to resemble a deliberate cover-up.″

″It is fitting, indeed imperative, for Congress to conduct a full-scale investigation,″ she said. ″Armed with its subpoena power and the right to examine more than 1,200 still-classified documents, Congress can uncover the truth.″

Mrs. Oldham cited a March 9 letter from Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, both D-Mass., to Sen. Wendell H. Ford, D-Ky., requesting an investigation by Ford’s Commerce subcommittee on aviation. The letter was subsequently referred to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Soviets officially have said they shot the plane down because they believed it was a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft violating Soviet airspace.

In their letter, Kennedy and Kerry pointed to a number of unresolved matters involving the Korean airliner affair.

-″It is our understanding that there is evidence showing that an hour and a half into the flight, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) controller in Anchorage, Alaska, knew that KAL 007 was off course and heading for Soviet airspace, that he considered warning the aircraft but refrained from doing so.″

-″There is also reason to believe that important evidence has been tampered with, that U.S. records were destroyed and that U.S. and Japanese tapes of communications with the airliner were falsified.″

-″In addition, it is our understanding that there are two contradictory sets of radar tracks, both attributed to U.S. radars ... showing KAL 007′s course. One of them must be false,″ Kennedy and Kerry wrote in the letter.

Joan Piermarini, a staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she had no comment on prospects for an investigation by the panel.

Earlier Friday, about 100 family members attended an interfaith memorial service at the Washington Cathedral, which included a reading of the names of all 269 victims, who came from 17 different countries.

Among those giving brief eulogies at the service was Lois Bowden of AuGres, Mich., who lost her mother, Eleanor Bissell.

″Five years have passed and I have not come to terms with her death,″ Mrs. Bowden said.

She added that ″I will not be able to close the book of her life″ until the questions surrounding the tragedy have been resolved.

Nancy Draughn of Lake Charles, La., called the loss of her 20-year-old daughter, Sarah, ″a tragedy so powerful that it would change the course of my life.″

″We cannot end (grieving) until we have used this tragedy to make a better and safer world,″ she said.

Julia Lombard of Hatboro, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, fought to hold back tears as she recalled the loss of her husband, Aiden, and her brother-in-law, Donald.

″How can we explain to our kids what we don’t even know ourselves?″ said Mrs. Lombard, who has four children.

Another family member, Canadian Philippe Robert de Massy, said, ″It may be that we will never know everything that happened.″

De Massy, who lost his younger brother, Francois, said the tragedy had brought home to him the need for ″a new ethical order in the relationships between people.″