The Clash Of Korean Air Flight 803

On July 27, 1989, Korean Air Flight 803 crashed while attempting to land at Tripoli International Airport (TIP) in Libya. Of the 199 passengers and crew onboard, 75 people, along with four people on the ground, died in what is still Libya’s worst aviation disaster.

The aircraft, a 16-year-old McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 with the registration number HL7328, had, at the time of the accident, performed 11,440 cycles. In the cockpit that day was 54-year-old captain Kim Ho- jung, 57-year-old first officer Choi Jae-hong, and 53-year-old flight engineer Hyun Gyu-hwan.

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Korean Air Flight 803 was a scheduled flight between Seoul and Tripoli

Korean Air Flight 803 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight between Seoul Gimpo International Airport (GMP) and Tripoli International Airport (TIP) with stops at Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) in Bangkok and Jeddah-King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Saudi Arabia . Onboard the flight to North Africa were mainly Korean workers returning to a construction project in Libya after having been home on leave.

On the final leg of the journey, as they approached Tripoli, the airport was shrouded in heavy fog with visibility down to 100 feet in some places. Despite this, the crew decided to continue with the final approach on runway 27. Somehow the plane dropped Below the correct glide path and crashed into two buildings before breaking into three sections and catching on fire. Of the passengers and crew, 75 people, along with four on the ground, died.


French experts conducted the investigation

Due to poor relations with the United States, Douglas and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) were not invited to participate in the investigation. The Libyan authorities did, however, invite French experts to investigate what had caused the accident. When being interviewed about what had happened, captain Kim Ho-jung was quoted as saying the following:

“The airport was shrouded in dense fog, and visibility was poor when I approached. I lost contact with the control tower for 15 minutes before the crash.”

The North African country’s official news agency JANA ran a story saying that a flight one hour earlier from Russia had rerouted to Malta rather than trying to land in the dense fog. Also, at the time of the crash, Tripoli International Airport’s instrument landing system was not operational.


In December 1990, the captain and the first officer were put on trial and found guilty by a Libyan court of neglect. The pair were given jail sentences of two years and eighteen months respectively, with the first officer’s sentence suspended following an appeal.

With the aircraft crashing in a fruit orchard 1.3 miles short of the runway threshold, investigators determined that the crash was due to human error. They said that captain Kim Ho-jung should have, as the Aeroflot plane had done earlier, diverted to Malta and not tried to land without being able to see the runway.

Tripoli International Airport (TRP)

Originally called Tripoli-Castel Benito Airport, the airfield was built for the Italian Air Force in 1934. During World War Two, it was destroyed and then rebuilt and used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF). In 1978 an international terminal was built The airport was closed briefly in 2011 following the United Nations imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.


During the 2014 Libyan Civil War, following the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi the airport was the site of a fierce battle between rival militias. The Los Angeles Times reported that 90% of the airport’s facilities had been damaged, along with 20 planes. Today the airport remains closed, with Misrata International Airport (MRA) 125 miles east acting as the airport for Tripoli.

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