Iran recently admitted it shot down the Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Tehran. Here are 5 other times geopolitical tension turned deadly in the skies.

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Getty/Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto
  • Iran admitted responsibility for shooting down a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 after it took off from Tehran, claiming it was an accident.
  • History of aircraft shootdowns shows a history of mistaken aircraft identity amid rising geopolitical tension.
  • The US accidentally shot down an Iranian commercial airliner in the 1980s, killing 290 passengers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Iranian authorities admitted on Saturday that Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down by one of its missiles, revising former claims of a mechanical issue. The aircraft, en route to Kyiv from Tehran, crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran Airport, with Iran claiming it had strayed too close to a Revolutionary Guard base.

Authorities blamed increasing tensions between the Islamic republic and the US in the days leading up to the shoot down as one of the main reasons for the crash. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, placed the blame squarely on the US for the accidental discharge, citing “US adventurism.”

Tensions between the two countries escalated following the drone assassination of Qassem Soleimani, one of the country’s top generals, in Baghdad, Iraq.

It’s not the first time that geopolitical tensions contributed to accidental shootdowns, here’s a list of other times civilian airliners have been shot down by mistake.


A Cathay Pacific Airways flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok was shot down by the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China in 1954, killing nine passengers.

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The interior of a similar aircraft.
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Museum of Flight/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The communist Chinese government believed the aircraft to be a Kuomintang military aircraft en route to attack Hainan Island, according to archived reporting from the time. China took responsibility for the accident with the country’s vice-minister for foreign sending an apology letter to the British government.

Nine survived the aircraft’s forced crash landing with the US Navy even aiding the search and rescue effort, shooting down two Chinese fighter planes in the process after they were attacked.


In one of the first shoot downs of a commercial airliner over Europe, a Lockheed Constellation of El Al Israel Airlines was downed in 1955 when it strayed into Bulgarian airspace.

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A Lockheed Constellation.
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Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

The aircraft was flying home to Israel from London via Vienna and Istanbul when a navigational error sent it into Bulgarian airspace, Haaretz reported. The communist country responded with interceptors that shot down the aircraft.

All 58 souls on board were killed in the crash, with Bulgaria eventually taking responsibility and paying compensation in the amount of $8,236 per person. While El Al is seen as a top target for terrorists since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the shootdown was seen as accidental, with Bulgaria issuing an apology.


Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983 when the Boeing 747 mistakenly entered its airspace.

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Steve Parsons/Getty

All 269 passengers were killed, CNN wrote, on the flight that had originated at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport en route to Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport via Anchorage. Soviet officials claimed they believed the aircraft to be an American spy plane, The Week reported, that looked similar to the Korean Air aircraft.

It was the second time that a Korean Air aircraft was fired upon by Soviet forces, the first time being in 1978, the New York Times reported, on a flight from Paris to Seoul via Anchorage and Tokyo that also strayed into USSR airspace. The pilot, who cited an error in the aircraft’s navigational system for the accidental incursion, was able to land deep within the communist country, saving the lives of almost everyone on board.


In an incident that involved the US military and an Iranian commercial airliner, an Iran Air Airbus A300 was shot down by a US Navy ship patrolling the Persian Gulf.

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C. v. Grinsven/Getty

The shootdown occurred amid heightened tensions in the region due to the Iran-Iraq War, with the Navy claiming it mistakenly believed the aircraft to be an Iranian F-14 fighter jet. The victim count totaled 290 passengers who were flying from Iran to the United Arab Emirates.

After admitting its error, the US government paid compensation to the victims in a multi-million-dollar settlement.


Shortly after the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down as it was flying over the region en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam.

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Horacio Villalobos/Getty

All onboard the aircraft were killed in the shootdown, which hasn’t yet been declared an accident, though a trial is pending for suspects. The shootdown was reported to have links to President Vladimir Putin’s government as communications intercepts showed heightened call volumes between the government and the pro-Russia separatists.

The airline had already been under scrutiny following the disappearance of one of its aircraft, flight MH370, earlier in the year. The Boeing 777 had been flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the Atlantic reported, when it dropped off radar. The full wreckage has never been found.