In the past, nations whose military forces shot down a plane sometimes said it was an accident, such as mistaking an airliner for a warplane. Several shootdowns occurred during times of high political tension that might have invited errors.
The Ukraine International Airlines jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran. Iranian officials quickly blamed a mechanical problem, but the timing – coming just hours after Iran fired a missile barrage at U.S. forces in Iraq – raised suspicion that the airliner might have been shot down.
Similar events in the past include: — 2014: A Malaysian airliner flying over eastern Ukraine was hit by a missile that Dutch-led investigators determined was fired by pro-Russia rebels fighting Ukraine’s government. All 298 people on board died. Three Russians, including a former officer in a Russian intelligence service, and a Ukrainian were charged with murder.
— 2001: A stray missile fired by Ukrainian forces during a military training exercise brought down a Siberia Airlines plane over the Black Sea, killing all 78 people aboard. Ukraine reached a settlement with Israel for compensation. Many of the victims were Israelis who had emigrated from Russia.
— 1988: A U.S. Navy cruiser, the USS Vincennes, shot down an Iranian airliner flying over the Persian Gulf. All 290 people aboard Iran Air Flight 655 died. The U.S. said the accident occurred when the Airbus jetliner was mistaken for a jet fighter. The government eventually apologized and eight years later agreed to pay compensation to victims’ families.
— 1983: Soviet forces downed Korean Air Lines Flight 007 after the plane strayed from its planned route between Anchorage, Alaska, and Seoul, South Korea, and entered Soviet air space. All 269 passengers and crew on board were killed, including a congressman from Georgia. The incident inflamed U.S.-Soviet relations, which were already tense because of the Cold War. Families of some passengers received settlements from the airline after filing lawsuits in U.S. courts.
In addition to confirmed shootdowns, there have been many other crashes that governments or witnesses believe were intentional acts and not accidents, but some doubts remains about those causes.