Published: Tue, December 05, 2017
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

Airliner Witnessed North Korean Missile Test

Airliner Witnessed North Korean Missile Test

Cathay Pacific said none of its flight routes were modified because of the North Korea missile, according to the BBC News. The flight was far enough from the missile test not to be in danger, but The Guardian says the incident highlights the "unforeseen danger" of North Korea's tests.

A plane takes off near the control tower at San Francisco International Airport on February 25, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.

Cathay Pacific Airlines, whose main hub is based out of the Hong Kong International Airport, confirmed that one of its crews witnessed on November 29 "what is suspected to be the re-entry" of the missile into the Earth's atmosphere, the broadcaster reported.

It should be noted though that if the latest test of the Hwasong-15 ICBM failed on re-entry, it did so on a lofted trajectory. He noted that one such threat was a claim by Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in which she said the North Korean regime would be "utterly destroyed in case of war".

North Korea has developed ballistic missiles powerful enough to reach their intended targets, including those as far away as the continental USA, and nuclear warheads for those weapons, but the North has struggled with re-entry vehicle technology, which ensures that the warhead survives the flight.

According to Mark Hoey, Cathay Pacific's general manager of operations, the message from the passenger plane crew to the staff on ground was: "Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location", the South China Morning Post reported.

New test A view of the newly developed intercontinental ballistic rocket Hwasong-15's test seen in this
Flight crew witnessed North Korean nuclear missile test, airline says

Airline pilots from three aircrafts saw the North Korean missile that was sacked last week re-enter Earth's atmosphere and break up, according to the BBC News.

Given the arbitrary nature of the tests, it is possible that a North Korean missile could hit an airplane traveling through airspace near the launch site.

A missile test "would create a debris field that could be a risk to aircrafts at high altitude", Ankit Panda, a security-focused editor at Asia-Pacific news magazine The Diplomat, told the BBC.

North Korea does not typically announce their missile tests, which catch the world by surprise.

The crew alerted air traffic controllers in Japan of what they believed was the Hwasong-15's re-entry and continued on its path to Hong Kong. Operation remained normal and was not affected.

The airline went on to state that it informed authorities and other carriers at the time. For the time being, there are no planned changes to existing Cathay Pacific routes.

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