The Soviet Union yesterday apparently forced down a South Korean jetliner carrying 113 persons in a remote corner of Russia near Finland an the Arctic Circle, U.S. officials said last night.
Soviet military jets reportedly scrambled to meet the Boeing 707 as it approached Soviet air space, and there were indications that the fighters took some action to bring the jetliner down.
The jetliner landed on a frozen lake. There were no reports on the condition of the passengers, crew or plane.
In Paris, Korean Air Lines officials said there were 16 passengers on the plane who did not have Korean or Japanese surnames, and these 16 were thought to be Europeans or Americans.
It was not known whether any of those with Oriental surnames were American citizens.
U.S. officials were called to the White House situation room at about 6:15 last night. Afterward, one participant said there was no crisis atmosphere in the meeting.
Because the plane was on a flight from Paris to Anchorage, the officials presumed that Americans might be on board. An official also said the United States had an important role to play in the incident because there are no diplomatic relations between South Korea and the Soviet Union.
It was quickly decided to send official inquiries through diplomatic channels as well as through International aviation agencies, which have procedures for obtaining information in the event of aircraft incidents and accidents.
The White House, in comments to the press and telephone calls to key members of Congress, gave a calm view of the incident in an apparent attempt to head off an air of crisis.
Lawmakers were told that there was "some information that leads us believe that the plane could be in the Soviet Union. "However, informed officials indicated that solid information was on hand that the aircraft was down in Soviet territory near an airstrip.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said last evening that "Based on radar trackings and its reported position, we do have reason to believe that the plane may be in the Soviet Union."
Asked if the plane had been forced down, he said, "If if is in the Soviet Union, we have no way to know at his point how it got there."
Earlier a Korean Airlines official in Anchorage said an emergency locater beacon signal had been picked up, but the official was unable to give the location. The airline cautioned that the source of the signal was unknown.
The plane was scheduled to stop in Anchorage to refuel at 3:30 p.m. EST for refueling. It has last been heard from almost four hours earlier in Bodo, orway, the FAA said. The pilot radioed to Bodo that he was near the Alert station of Canadian Forces on Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, the FAA said.
However, Norwegian officials at Bodo Airport said they had no contact with the missing airliner.
Korean Airlines said the plane was carrying 97 passengers and 16 crew members, the airline said.
In Paris, an Orly Airport duty officer said the plane was delayed 39 minutes at the start of its flight. He said he did not know why.
Major Victor Keating of the Canadian Defense Force in Edmonton, Alberta, said the plane's last known position was the Alert station, which is 2,000 miles from Anchorage, and Inuvik, also in the Northwest Territories, 700 miles from Anchorage.
"The last known position was Alert, so we'll start from there. Presumably he got farther than that," Keating said.
North American Air Defense Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., was asked to play back its radar tapes to determine when the plane disappeared from radar, Keating said, but NORAD said it had no information on the plane.
Keating said the plane's last known speed was 600 mph, but it "could have been flying in circles. It could have been disoriented, so it's hard to say how far he could have gotten."
FAA spokesman Cliff Cernick said the plane was reported overdue at 2 p.m. EST after it failed to make scheduled position reports.
The plane's route would have brought it over Komakuk on Canada's north coast, then to Fort Yukon, Alaska, and to Anchorage, Cernick said.
The transpolar ari route brings planes close to the North Pole and causes wild deviations in conventional compases.
Officials believe that no commercial airliner has ever gone down over the route. Korean Airlines began flying the route in 1975, and is one of at least eight airlines using it.