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Korean Air passenger jet goes missing

By SPENCER SHERMAN

SEOUL, South Korea -- A Korean Air passenger jet on a flight from the Middle East was missing Sunday with 115 aboard after it failed to arrive in Bangkok and authorities in Thailand said the plane had crashed on the Thai-Burma border.

A KAL official in the airline's emergency operations office and an airport official confirmed that Korean Air Flight 858 was missing on a flight from Baghdad, Iraq, but did not confirm the Thai report.

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Officials said the Boeing 707 was scheduled to land in Bangkok at 2:40 p.m. for refueling before departing for Seoul on a flight that began in Baghdad with a stopover in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It was to have concluded at 8:40 p.m. in Seoul.

The state-run Korea Broadcasting System and the Yonhap domestic news agency reported the crew of the jet spoke with the Bangkok airport control tower over Rangoon, 30 minutes before they were to land.

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No futher communication was received from the plane, the reports said.

Police Lt. Patikorn Bali, of Kanchanaburi, Thailand, near the Burmese border, about 80 miles east of Bangkok, told United Press International the plane crashed on the border.

'My superiors told me the plane has crashed but we are not sure where. We are not sure if it is in Thailand or Burma. We were informed by the airport authorities of Thailand about 3 p.m. today that the Korean plane crashed. Thai authorities called Burma and Burmese authorities said it crashed in Thailand, not Burma,' Bali said. He said a search was being organized.

Korean Air said there were 95 passengers on the plane, including two non-Koreans named D. Phul Wani and Abboud Ebmonda, nationalities unknown, and 20 airline employees. The employees included a crew of nine, two security officers and nine other workers.

The South Korean Consul General to Iraq, Kang Suk-jae, and his wife were aboard the plane on the way back to Seoul for a meeting of high-ranking diplomats that opens Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Kim Hang-kyong said.

KAL runs regular service to many Middle East capitals, where South Korean construction firms are heavily involved in building projects.

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Apprehesive relatives and friends waited at the Seoul airport for word of the planes's fate.

Ministry Spokesman Kim Hang-Kyong said an emergency task force had contacted nations in the area where the plane disappeared 'to try to determine the exact circumstance.'

'We have already sent instructions to our ambassadors in Thailand and Burma and the South Korean consulate general in Iraq, along with other friendly nations nearby (the area of the disappearance),' the spokesman said in a statement released late Sunday.

In an interview with UPI in Abu Dhabi, KAL representative Kim Tae-hwan said 84 people were aboard the plane when it arrived from Baghdad. He said 11 others joined the flight in Abu Dhabi and the plane departed at 4:00 a.m. local time.

KAL officials did not rule out the possibility that the plane was hijacked.

Speculation on a hijacking was fueled by the arrest last week of Osamu Maruoka, a Japanese member of the Middle East-based terrorist Red Army who had a plane ticket to Seoul when he was apprehended.

It was the second major airline crash in two days. A South African Airways jumbo jet carrying 159 people crashed off the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius on Saturday.

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