What Happened To Condor’s Boeing 747 Aircraft?

Condor has been around for a long time, 63 years to be precise. It’s operated a number of different aircraft throughout the years, the biggest of which was the Boeing 747. Condor’s Jumbo Jets have faded into history and it hasn’t operated one in more than 20 years, but for old times’ sake, we’ll explore what happened to them.

A Condor Boeing 747
Condor has operated a grand total of four Boeing 747s. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Condor spent many years under split ownership between a number of German companies, most notably Lufthansa.

In 2004 Condor became part of the Thomas Cook Group, which is currently struggling to save itself from bankruptcy. Since then, Condor has been operated by its majority stakeholder, Thomas Cook Group, and has at various times incorporated the Thomas Cook brand into its name and aircraft liveries.

But the Thomas Cook years came well after Condor flew its last Boeing 747. In total, Condor only ever flew four different Boeing 747s, and three of them lived reasonably unassuming lives.

Condor’s Boeing 747s

Condor bought its first two Boeing 747-200Bs new back in 1971 and 1972, shortly after the type was released. It then received another brand-new Boeing 747-200B in 1979, which was bought new by Lufthansa before being immediately transferred to Condor.

This aircraft, registered D-ABYR, was then transferred back to Lufthansa just 16 months later, where it spent the rest of its career, until eventually being scrapped in 2002.

A Lufthansa Boeing 747
Lufthansa and Condor passed a number of aircraft between them. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The final Boeing 747 to enter service with Condor was delivered in 1993 and it was also bought new by Lufthansa. It flew for Lufthansa for three years before transferring to Condor, where it operated flights for another three years before returning to Lufthansa.

Three of the four Condor Boeing 747 lived very normal lives, swapping back and forth between various airlines. But the fourth, originally registered with Condor as D-ABYH, met a much more unusual and tragic demise.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

After seven years of service with Condor, D-ABYH was sold to Korean Air Lines in 1979 and re-registered HL7442. On 31 August 1983, Korean Air Lines departed John F. Kennedy International Airport with 23 crew and 246 passengers, including US Congressman Larry McDonald.

Its final destination was Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, Korea, but it had to make a stop at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska to refuel.

Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 HL7442
Korean Air Lines Flight 007 met a tragic end after straying into Soviet air space. Photo: Hansueli Krapf via Wikimedia Commons

The first leg of the journey was completed without incident and, after refueling, the aircraft took off for Seoul from Anchorage at 13:00 UTC on 31 August.

Due to issues with aircraft tracking beacons around Anchorage, the aircraft quickly deviated from its planned flight path. The pilots were also unaware of this deviation due to a quirk of the navigation system.

As Korean Air Lines Flight 007 continued its incorrect route across the Bering Sea, it gradually ventured into Soviet airspace.

Soviet aircraft would usually have been able to intercept the passenger jet much earlier than they did. However, an early warning radar on the Kamchatka Peninsula was inoperational, because local officials had falsified records stating it had previously been repaired.

High tensions between the US and USSR led the Soviets to believe the aircraft could be a covert spy plane disguised as a passenger jet.

A Suknoi Su-15
Three Soviet Sukhoi Su-15s were scrambled to intercept the Korean Air Lines Boeing 747. Photo: US Department of Defense

Unfortunately, the pilots did not see warning shots fired at the aircraft by the Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 fighter jet. It was then ordered to shoot the Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 down with two K-8 missiles shortly afterwards.

The Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 suffered a rapid decompression as a result of shrapnel damage but it was still operational. It eventually descended before crashing into the sea at 18:38 UTC.

All passengers aboard were alive following the missile strike, but they were all killed when the aircraft crashed into the sea some 12 minutes later.

Korean Air Lines was ordered to pay significant amounts of compensation to passenger families due to this long period of passenger pain and suffering.

Although Condor only had four Boeing 747s, the tragic story of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 will live long in the memory of families and friends of those who died.