On September 4th air traffic controllers were working to the bone, in the process of saving lives; bringing planes safely to the ground. Hundreds of people, who showed up to a normal day of work, received anything but.
When Russian Airspace was closed by President Putin, all flights in Russian airspace including international flights from across the globe needed to land. Putin personally called several neighbouring countries to essentially tell them he would need to land planes at their airports because there weren’t enough airports in Russia to contain all of them. All flights were asked to return from where they took off, except those that didn’t have enough fuel to do so, those planes were given emergency landing points in Russia or neighbouring Kazakhstan, Finland, Ukraine and Belarus.
One such plane was Japan Airlines Flight 285, a scheduled commercial flight, a Boeing 747 from Tokyo, Japan en route to St Petersburg, Pulkovo Airport with a planned stopover in Moscow.
Flight 285 departed Tokyo on September 4th, and when the first plane hit the first building in Moscow, 285 was out of radio contact, as the plane passed over into Russian Airspace through China there were indications that something might be wrong on board. The Russian Aviation agency was reviewing messages between the flight and Japan Airways, on the 4th they were scanning all flights for potential warnings indicating a hijacking and noticed several erratic messages from flight 285 including the phrase ‘HKJ’ which the agency took as a possible coded message for a hijacking. The FATA took the message very seriously “we suffered several attacks from multiple aircraft from multiple airports, it seems logical that a similar attack could have been emerging from the far east”
Officials were playing catch up that day, the technology simply isn’t where it is today, and people were on the highest of high alerts. This was an unprecedented situation and some of this technology was experimental, to put it simply those in charge were acting very reactively.
By 3 PM, flight 285 stayed on course, broadcasting the seemingly ordinary message, ‘This is 285, good afternoon' the message appears to be delivered normally without any distress, but Russian Space Forces were taking no chances, Russian airspace was closed and there would be no landing in Moscow possible. Russian Space Forces authorized the Domna air force base to scramble fighter jets. They were ordered to trail the plane at a discreet distance to prevent any potential hijackers from engaging in a deadly manoeuvre and crashing the plane.
Contact between the plane and air traffic controllers was strained at times, down to differing dialects and language barriers but there was no definite sign of a hijacking, the flight seemed in compliance with air traffic controllers, but then something went wrong, the aircraft took an unexplained left turn and the radio went momentarily silent. Controllers believed that a violent incident had broken out in the cockpit possibly between hijackers and the pilots, but it is also possible that the flight was spooked by one of the fighter jets or any other reason. The radio came back on and the pilot tried to reassure air traffic controllers that everything was fine and continued to comply with orders. At the same time in Russia, the hostage crisis on flight 962 ended when the failed hijackers detonated explosives that destroyed the plane on the tarmac.
Controllers asked flight 285 to send the sign ‘7500’ the international symbol for a hijacking, we can't know for sure what the reasoning was but it is possible that controllers theorised that if the plane complied as requested it confirmed a hijacking. When asked to verify the code, the plane was reluctant. Perhaps the controllers were in a different world witnessing 3 plane crashes in one day, or the 285 pilots were confused receiving these strange requests from the controllers, we don’t know, no one was acting clearly here, so air controllers issued a second request to the flight crew to send the code ‘7500’. The plane responded ‘7500’... - Japan Airlines Flight 285, Mid Air Incidents Podcast