What was the 1958 C-130 Shootdown Incident?

Introduction

The 1958 C-130 shootdown incident was the shooting down of an American Lockheed C-130A-II-LM reconnaissance aircraft which had intruded into Soviet airspace during a reconnaissance mission along the Turkish-Armenian border.

C-130A-45-LM (57-0453), modified to represent 56-0528, on display at the National Cryptologic Museum, Fort Meade, MD,

Incident

On 02 September 1958, a Lockheed C-130A-II-LM (s/n 56-0528), from the 7406th Support Squadron, departed Incirlik Airbase in Turkey on a reconnaissance mission along the Turkish-Armenian border. It was to fly a course parallel to the Soviet frontier, but not approach the border closer than 100 miles (160 km). The crew reported passing over Trabzon in Turkey at 25,500 feet (7,800 m) and then acknowledged a weather report from Trabzon, but that was the last communication received from the flight. It was later intercepted and shot down by four Soviet MiG-17s 34 mi (55 km; 30 nmi) north-west of Yerevan. The six flight crew were confirmed dead when their remains were repatriated to the United States, but the 11 intelligence-gathering personnel on board have never been acknowledged by Soviet/Russian authorities. After the fall of the Soviet Union a US excavation team found hundreds of skeletal fragments; two remains were identified. A group burial of the 17 crew remains was held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Probable Cause

The exact cause of why the aircraft strayed into Soviet airspace is unknown, but according to the Aviation Safety Network, the crew may have confused a radio beacon in the USSR with similar frequencies to the Turkish beacons they were briefed to use, or it may have been a deliberate manoeuvre to obtain better data.

Memorial

In 1993, Armenian sculptor Martin Kakosian unveiled a Khachkar, a traditional Armenian cross stone, at the site of the aircraft’s crash in the village of Nerkin Sasnashen. Kakosian had witnessed the crash as a college student on a field trip in 1958. This khachkar later fell over and cracked, and a joint US-Armenian memorial was built to commemorate the site. In 2011, the US Army Office of Defence Cooperation renovated the village Kindergarten in appreciation of the villagers’ commemoration of the downed airmen.

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