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Tailspin: Behind the Korean Airliner Tragedy (1989)

Chronicle of the shooting down of a Korean passenger plane by Soviet air force on 1st September 1983. Over 280 people died in this incident.


David Darlow


Brian Phelan
1 nomination. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Michael Murphy ... Richard Burt
Michael Moriarty ... Maj. Hank Daniels
Chris Sarandon ... John Lenczowski
Harris Yulin ... Gen. Tyson
Richard Holmes ... Clark (as Otto Jarman)
Bradley Lavelle ... Jamie
Kieron Jecchinis ... Coles
Matthew Freeman Matthew Freeman ... Aaron
Andrea Browne Andrea Browne ... Operative
James Tillitt James Tillitt ... Operative
Ed O'Ross ... Sgt. Duffy
Debora Weston Debora Weston ... Carol
Colin Bruce Colin Bruce ... Dave
Marc Smith ... Mort
Bill Bailey Bill Bailey ... Military


Chronicle of the shooting down of a Korean passenger plane by Soviet air force on 1st September 1983. Over 280 people died in this incident.

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Plot Keywords:

airplane accident | See All (1) »









Release Date:

20 August 1989 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Coded Hostile See more »

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Technical Specs


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Did You Know?


Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performed by Rundfunkchor Leipzig (as The Leipzig Radio Chorus) and Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden (as The Dresden State Orchestra)
Conducted by Peter Schreier
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User Reviews

Real World vs The Movie Version
8 August 2015 | by richard-90463See all my reviews

Obviously, LarryB100 was nowhere near the action that night/morning or else he would never have said that the film was "accurate in all respects". I, however, was on duty when we told the world about what happened. I was a Senior Reporter - though not the ONLY one (there were two of us certified and on duty at the time) (the Senior Reporter is the guy portrayed by "Sgt Duffy" - the guy who says, "It's a CRITIC."). Anyway, I found the film interesting in that the basic "premise" is somewhat accurate, but there were definitely a lot of assumptions which were not accurate...and I'll spell those out here:

(1) First off, the film makes the viewer believe that we caught the activity right from the beginning (i.e. the operator starts typing away on his console and they know that there is a fighter chasing a target). That did not happen. The mid-shift had the activity, but they analyzed it as "practice" and not "real world". It wasn't until the day-shift (our team) came on duty that we began to receive queries as to whether we had any information on the Korean airliner. In going back through the intercept, we found the activity, analyzed it as a shootdown, and reported it as such (i.e. CRITIC). As the film states, we issued CRITICs, and NSA canceled them...again and again. Again, the activity was initially "missed", but was caught by us on the day-shift. (2) There are no Air Force women walking around serving coffee! (3) When Secretary Schultz was giving his speech on TV, we did NOT have TVs in the S&W (Surveillance & Warning) Center back in those days. The only media we had was a radio for FEN (Far East Network) (a radio affiliate of the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio & Television Service)) and another radio (R-390) that we used to listen to a rock station in Saipan. (4) The Flight Commander in the film was a Captain (O-3), but the actual Flight Commander was a 2nd Lieutenant (O-1). (5) The Flight Commander is fully aware of what a CRITIC is and the ramifications of sending one with incorrect information. We certainly don't need an S&W Supervisor to explain to the Flight Commander was a CRITIC is. And, for the Senior Report ("Sgt Duffy") to speak to the Flight Commander in that tone of voice is certainly unacceptable, and did not happen!!! In short, the guy who portrayed "Sgt Duffy" went way overboard with his "dramatic" acting!!! Had a good laugh at that. (6) The tapes from Wakkanai were sheer luck! The guy up at Wakkanai was performing his routine transcriptions (taking the intercept from the tape and transcribing them to print copy), and as he was doing that, he happened to look up at the VU meter and saw it flicking back and forth, so he hit the RECORD button to catch whatever it was and continued transcribing. It wasn't until the morning when that tape was listened to and they realized they had something which strongly correlated to the activity at Misawa. That was when the tapes were deemed critical to have them immediately flown from Wakkanai to Misawa. (7) When Wakkanai calls down to the S&W Center, "Sgt Duffy" makes a comment to the S&W Supervisor, "Be careful, it's an open line." That is plain ludicrous! First off, it wasn't an open line (it was SECURE). Secondly, the phone was situated in a Hotline Booth, not on the desk. Thirdly, the Senior Reporter does NOT need to tell the S&W Supervisor that he needs to "Be careful!" when this is ingrained as second nature in the S&W Supervisor. "Sgt Duffy" makes it appear that HE is the all-knowing, and the S&W Supervisor and Flight Commander are morons. Ridiculous. But entertaining, nonetheless. Although "Sgt Duffy" was portraying MY position during the event, I had to confess to my family, "No, I wasn't that arrogant!!!"

Larry, I'm not sure where you were during this incident or what part you played during the real world activities that night - but to say that the film was "accurate" and "authentic" certainly did NOT reflect what REALLY happened in OUR Surveillance & Warning Center that night/morning. For those of us who were on-duty, this film certainly is "entertaining" in terms of what REALLY happens and what outsiders THINK happens in an intelligence unit.

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