Sixty years ago today, the PLA shot down a Cathay Pacific commercial flight

On July 23, 1954, while Hong Kong was still under British rule, two PLA fighter jets shot down a Cathay Pacific flight carrying 18 passengers en route to Hong Kong from Bangkok. Nine passengers survived.

Here’s the original news story from the SCMP on July 24, 1954 (clipping seen above).

The plane, a Douglas DC-4, was near Hainan Island when it was attacked by PLA fighter jets at 9,000 feet, with the attack continuing until the plane had descended to 1,000 feet. The plane then crash-landed into the water, over 50 miles from the nearest coastline.

Read the original July 26, 1954 SCMP story of the captain of the Cathay Pacific plane, who was hailed as a hero.

The Royal Air Force in Kai Tak Airport had received the mayday call from the Cathay Pacific plane and had alerted rescue services as well as diverted a military transport plane en route to Saigon to the reported position of the DC-4 plane. An American flying boat picked up the survivors and brought them back to Kai Tak.

The Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote an apology letter to the British government a few days later. He claimed that the fighter jet pilots had mistaken the Cathay Pacific plane for a Kuomingtang craft on the way to raid their military base on Hainan Island. He called the whole affair an “accidental and unfortunate” incident. Whoopsies! Did we shoot down a civilian aircraft?

Check out the original SCMP news story on the apology here from July 26, 1954.

Three days after the incident, two PLA fighters were shot down by three US Navy planes who were still searching for survivors of the crash. The Chinese government made a statement saying they protested “most strongly” against the act and told the U.S. to “stop immediately such acts of aggression”, or to “suffer the consequences”.

News clippings: Helianthus Productions

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